Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Angela Catterns, ABC North Coast

18 March 2022

Event: BizRebuild Chair Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Angela Catterns, ABC North Coast
Speakers: Angela Catterns, host, ABC North Coast; Sir Peter Cosgrove, chair, BizRebuild
Topics: BizRebuild; business support; flood recovery


Angela Catterns, host, ABC North Coast: After finishing his term as Australia's Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, along with the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, who were both are deeply affected by the 2019 bushfires, set up a charity called BizRebuild. And I am pleased to welcome Sir Peter to the program. Hello and welcome.

Sir Peter Cosgrove, chair, BizRebuild: Hello, Angela. Good to talk to you again.

Angela: Thank you, and you. It does seem there is some assistance being offered to residents, but you're offering assistance for businesses, yes?

Sir Peter: Yes, we are. We cottoned on to this in the aftermath, as you mentioned, or during the bushfires, where we saw that as well as the global damage, if I could put it that way, businesses were forced out of business, and that's the glue that keeps communities together. If in the recovery, if the businesses aren't able to open their doors as quickly as possible, there's another drumbeat of disintegration for that community. They really need the corner store, the local services and that's why they're a community. So, we focused on getting those businesses back on their feet as soon as possible. And that's what we're doing after these dreadful floods.

Angela: Well, that's very good news. What kinds of businesses? You're talking about local, small business, is that right?

Sir Peter: Main street of Lismore would be a case in point. We hear that just about the whole of that CBD was flood stricken to the point where they couldn't operate. Our intent is to look at all businesses, but I'll just use that there as an example, in the flood area, to see whether we can, with the injection of quick assistance, which is not necessarily through the understandable, bureaucratic routines of governments. Quick application of financial assistance and expert advice can help the businesses get back on their feet without delay.

Angela: I see. Expert advice, that's a good idea. Where do you get it?

Sir Peter: What happens is there are business planners, accountants, lawyers and the like who are in these areas. If possible, we would love the people who have need to be able to give their business, their consultancy and advice to local people so that they have an income as well. There's no point in having the milk bar open up if the lawyer next door or the accountant up the road can't operate because they've got no business.

Angela: Right. And how does it actually, can I call you Peter, by the way?

Sir Peter: Oh, please do Angela.

Angela: Thank you so much. How will it work? Will a business, for instance, have to spend the money and provide the receipts so that they can then get the retooling payment for instance?

Sir Peter: No, what we do is we have a voucher system running. I'll give you an example, that just take a unit of the voucher, $2,000. $2,000 for example, you might take this voucher to your local accountant to give you business planning. Or if it was like your laptop that went underwater and that was the hub of your business and you need a new laptop and you weren't insured for it, well, we'll give you a voucher. You go along to a place that sells laptops, hopefully locally and you can present that voucher. That'll give you the laptop or whatever it is that you were after and we pay. We pay the, as soon as the voucher is presented back to us, our fund pays.

Angela: No, that's great. So this is a charity, isn't it Peter? It is called BizRebuild. Where does the money come from?

Sir Peter: It's donated by big business. Some of the big names in business. Businesses all over Australia will be helping out by putting money into the fund and individuals. It's got deductible gift recipient status, so you can claim it on tax. But it's really a way for businesses outside of the affected area and individuals with big hearts and deep pockets to help out by donating to BizRebuild. With that money, we don't hang on to it and make it into a big bank account. We actually funnel it as quickly as possible out the door by way of vouchers.

Angela: Was that a dig at the federal government, Peter?

Sir Peter: No, it's because having been part of that apparatus for most of my life, in one way or another, as a taxpayer, I like the idea that there is some level of scrutiny and justification before people get a lot of money from government entities. We take the punt, if I could put it that way, that the people who apply for our vouchers are needy and fair dinkum. We will form relationships with the local chambers of commerce. We know that the person who applies has to have an Australian Business Number and some level of identity to make sure it's the right person. But it's pretty minimal, the checks and balances we do before that voucher is in the hands of a needy person.

Angela: I think it sounds like a wonderful idea, a great scheme. How do listeners, business owners apply for it?

Sir Peter: Jump on the internet, BizRebuild. If you're internet isn’t working, find your neighbors or a bloke down the road with a laptop that is on the internet. access BizRebuild, B-I-Z-R-E-B-U-I-L-D and that'll take you to the website and then away you go. We'll also have people visiting the area. Myself and Jennifer, you mentioned her, we're off to Lismore soon. We're talking to the New South Wales Minister who's in charge with Stephanie Cooke and we're chatting to her now, even when I finish this call and I’ll back up that table. We are in Byron Bay on the way through and we'll be in Mullumbimby and poor old Telstra Tower - I heard about that. Then up to Lismore and we’re just going to walk and talk and just make sure that Jennifer, who is the, as you pointed out, the chief executive of the Business Council Australia, and me as the old warhorse chair of the Advisory Committee. I've had more disaster relief operations than I care to name…

Angela: I can imagine.

Sir Peter: But what inspires you is when you see people who've copped an absolute upper cut from nature, who time off the floor and they're recovering their lives. It's inspirational in the sadness of it.

Angela: Yes. I just, I read an article last night in which you spoke about learning the importance of the two major principles after your long career in the military and they are leadership and planning. Now, I would argue that both of these were completely absent during and following the floods here in the Northern Rivers. How do we get leadership and planning at a time like this?

Sir Peter: Sadly, often we get it through experience. I have to say that if anybody could have anticipated the almost triple whammy of this recent, huge deluge that the Northern New South Wales in particular underwent. Nobody would've ever thought that 14 meters of flooding would inflict itself on the river system. The flood plain that that created was unprecedented. I guess people were just unprepared for the magnitude.

Angela: You learn from the experience and then you plan?

Sir Peter: Yes, you do. Look, I'll give you an example. After Cyclone Larry, up in the far north a place which gets its share of cyclones, you'd think by then every household would have a transistor radio and you'd be able to listen in to the ABC on the post-cyclone announcements. How many people just forgot that the power goes off. The loss of power in a disaster-stricken area is one of the most inhibiting and dismaying features of a natural disaster. People get thrust back into the pre-industrial age and they're back on sort of village systems problems, after a no refrigerator works. There's no electrical light. There's no cooling, no heating. If you haven't got a generator and if you haven't got batteries, you have no idea what's happening.

Angela: All right, so we learn. We learn from the absence. I just feel like there should be this big plan, this blueprint. But when a huge disaster happens, and then boom, we're all on board. Somebody's taking the helm, as we say, in sailing. Someone's taking the helm, and everybody knows what their job is, and they do it. That didn't happen.

Sir Peter: I know. Think about it this way. As a result of those horrible bushfires, we ended up with the Resilience Commissioner in New South Wales, Shane Fitzsimmons. Shane is on the job. He will be, when his agency is pulling pitch, a great hand to understand the aspects of recovery. It's just that the very nature of it, our peaceful lives aren’t set to handle imminent natural disasters. Tsunamis, cyclones - was it Dorothea Mackellar, ‘I love a sunburnt country.’ She goes on and on. She did leave out bushfires, did you note that?

Angela: Yes, she did. She did.

Sir Peter: Her beauties and her terrors. She got it right when she said her beauties and her terrors. Well, we’ve just had one of her terrors.

Angela: That's right. Peter, very lovely to talk to you. BizRebuild is the website if you have a business in the area that's been flood affected and hopefully, they can help you. It sounds like a wonderful scheme. Thank you for telling us about it.

Sir Peter: Thank you very much, Angela. Good to talk to you.

Angela: You too. All the best. Bye, bye now.


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