Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Jeremy Lee, ABC South West Victoria

29 June 2023

Event: Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Jeremy Lee, ABC South West Victoria
Speakers: Jeremy Lee, host, ABC South West Victoria; Sir Peter Cosgrove, patron, BizRebuild
Topics: BizRebuild; flood recovery; business support


Jeremy Lee, host, ABC South West Victoria: The town of Rochester, just near Echuca on the Victoria – New South Wales border, was one of the hardest hit during last October's floods. As a part of the efforts to help get the town back on its feet, the Business Council of Australia's charity arm BizRebuild handed out about 70 vouchers to small businesses in the area. BizRebuild chair, Sir Peter Cosgrove is visiting Rochester today and he joins us this morning. Sir Peter Cosgrove, welcome to you.

Sir Peter Cosgrove, patron, BizRebuild:  Good morning. I just heard that wonderful thing about VicRoads giving people digital licences with wrong surnames. I've got my hand up for ‘Peter Eureka – Stockade.’ How does that sound, if you can put a bid in for that?

Jeremy: [Laughter] I'm not sure you get to choose. I'm not sure that's how it works…

Sir Peter: [Laughter] Oh that’s unfortunate…

Jeremy: But that's very great sounding. You're visiting Rochester today, what's the plan for today?

Sir Peter: I’ve got Jennifer Westacott, the famous and very effective manager, chief executive of the whole of the BCA coming with me. This initiative came out of the bushfires years ago, which seems such a long time ago, but really wasn't all that long. We had devastation along the east coast, followed by floods, followed by more floods and that's how we got involved with Rochester and other places. So, the business community in Australia decided that they needed to do more of a practical nature to support small businesses in disaster affected areas so that those businesses were not in danger of folding permanently. The idea was to get in quickly, with vouchers to assist the people to re-establish their businesses, get back in operation, and then provide the service to the community that the community needs. That's why Rochester was well and truly on the list after the October floods in 2022. You pointed out 70 small businesses, but they were clothing stores, pharmacies, cafes, hotels, hairdressers, real estate agents, everybody who needed to be back on their feet was eligible for a voucher of a couple of thousand bucks. That was what we call re-equipping vouchers. We wanted people to be able to spend the money locally. So indeed, it was going from one pocket to another. The other key note is that we do it quickly. We don't have, as taxpayers’ money must have, the stewardship of bureaucracy to do checks and balances. We go in, we find in company with people like the Mayor of Campaspe and the President of the Chamber of Commerce, what we have is a quick assessment, quick delivery sort of mantra.

Jeremy: Right, okay. So presumably the application process and so on was pretty simple was it? So that you could get this money to people pretty quickly?

Sir Peter: Yes, we put people on the ground or online. But we do a very brief due diligence. First and foremost, the area has to be declared a disaster zone and once that's done, that creates the footprint of where we're going to look for assistance to be given. We have people on the ground who have that discussion with the affected businesses. Then the voucher is pretty quick, pretty simple and away you go.

Jeremy: As you mentioned, they're not huge amounts, a couple of thousand dollars. How far does that go to helping a lot of these businesses get back on their feet after an event like this?

Sir Peter: It’s all kinds of things. But we don't advertise a vast grant, but we have, on occasions, gone a bit beyond one voucher. But by and large the principal is $2,000, which is in your hand to be spent locally and that way we keep the money rolling around inside the local economy. It will buy things like new laptops and all that sort of stuff, a new printer. Whatever the tools of the business are, they're eligible for this reestablishment grant.

Jeremy: You mentioned 70 small businesses have benefitted from this. Was there more demand? Or was that all you're able to satisfy or did everybody who came forward – were you able to help everybody that wanted to be helped?

Sir Peter: Oh, we don't close the books ever. But what we do is, we obviously want to see that the couple of thousand has actually helped in each individual case. When we visit today, this is not an audit. This is us going to find out how it went and that's anecdotal. We will be helped out by the Mayor of Campaspe and President of the Chamber of Commerce, Paul Jarman. Rob Amos is the Mayor, they'll tell us how it's gone. We'll also talk to some of the recipients, and we'll get some ideas from them about if we did it okay. Are there things we need to improve? The whole idea will be to say, we want this to remain a first port of call for small businesses. So we reduce the chance of people saying, ‘I’m locking up these doors. I’m selling the business. I’m giving up.’

Jeremy: I'm sure in that regard, they’ve probably have been greatly appreciated. And yes, as you say, if the end result is that it stops the business from shutting its doors, that's a great result for the community?

Sir Peter: Absolutely. So we had 1,835 claims in Rochester. But that was not to us. That was to the Insurance Council of Australia. Now necessarily, when you're dealing with not only government money in the case of government grants and loans. The Insurance Council, they'll have their processes, these are commercial. We are at the front end of that along with people like the Red Cross, who will help you where they can. We focus on businesses and we say, if you close, that reduces the confidence the whole community has. Their community remains viable. So that's our strict focus.

Jeremy: Fantastic. Sir Peter Cosgrove, thanks very much for your time this morning. Hope you enjoy the trip to Rochester today and see some good things and we'll catch up with you soon.

Sir Peter: Jeremy all the best and remember that hyphenated surname. I might take that on.

Jeremy: I'd love to see that on a license somewhere.

Sir Peter: All the best, bye bye.

Jeremy: Thanks again, Sir Peter Cosgrove.


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