Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Tom Connell, NewsDay

18 March 2022

Event: BizRebuild Chair Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Tom Connell, NewsDay
Speakers: Tom Connell, host, NewsDay; Sir Peter Cosgrove, chair, BizRebuild
Topics: BizRebuild; business support; flood recovery


Tom Connell, host, NewsDay: I want to bring in the former Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. He is the chair of BizRebuild. This is the charitable arm of the Business Council of Australia. He's been out touring some of these areas, assessing the damage to local businesses and what help they need. He joins me now from Mullumbimby. Thanks very much for your time this morning. I suppose what we have is in particular with business, people think first and foremost about people's homes, but businesses are often a little bit lower lying so they can get hit really hard. What have you seen in Mullumbimby, for example?

Sir Peter Cosgrove, chair, BizRebuild: Tom, I'm standing outside the recovery centre here in Mullumbimby, Mullum to the locals and it's busy, as you can see. People coming and going, accessing the support that is available through the traditional programs, the Red Cross, Vinnies, Salvos and government, of course. We stand for business and the reason we do that is that local businesses are just as severely affected as people living their ordinary lives. We are here to support the businesses so that they can re-establish and get back underway without delay. This is the charitable arm, as you pointed out, of the Business Council of Australia, we call it BizRebuild. The job we take on is to see what we can do by providing vouchers, which amount to cash, to get people back on their feet in terms of small businesses, back to providing their services to their customers. Without that, the glue that the community relies on is absent and communities can fragment. We saw that over those devastating bushfires a couple of years ago, more recently floods, and this devastating once in a lifetime flood that we're dealing with now.

Tom: This is why the pace of all this matters, right? When you talk about locals getting out there and getting into shops and businesses staying in the town, if things aren't looking up soon after a disaster, that's when people get their insurance payouts, they wonder if they're going to stick around. I know in Mullumbimby, or Mullum, as you mentioned, I've got a friend there actually, an old school mate that's starting up a business and it was this really popular growing area. If that momentum doesn't stay in a community, suddenly you've got a situation where people might not keep their business there?

Sir Peter: You're spot on, you've summed it up. That's the way we think as well. We get big business, bigger and capable businesses all around Australia to kick the tin, provide money. They can do so with a tax break. Also individuals, people who have some money that they want to put to a very good and immediate use, give the money into BizRebuild. We have a very quick system of providing it to businesses that just need that injection of immediate support to re-equip, to get business advice and open their doors for business. We're doing that here and throughout the flood affected regions.

Tom: We know they need cash. Is there anything else in conversations you've had that people are crying out for that people might be able to provide beyond just money?

Sir Peter: We've had 250 or more applications now and the money or the vouchers are rolling out. We provide vouchers because that's the best way to get the money spent locally in the disaster area. We promote that currency of business between people in need and people who can supply. We have got several million dollars that we are dispersing, and we want to move it as quickly as possible through our voucher system. We are easy to access through our website, BizRebuild. Look it up on Google and make your application.

Tom: All right. Well, there's good advice. I might pass my friend onto that website, because he said he's not too badly affected, but everyone's picking up from scratch there at the moment I suppose. When you've looked more broadly beyond Mullumbimby, how bad does this disaster rate? What we keep hearing about in particular is Lismore has just been smashed by these floods?

Sir Peter: Tom, that's our next stop. We're off to Lismore. I know we're going to be devastated as everybody who has seen it on television will have already noted. But it's my perception that what you see from the air is a floodplain. What you see on a television screen is that which is within the cameras, ground grass. We're going to see looking up and down the CBD, devastation and people desperately in need of a hand. So, first impressions will be profound impressions, and I can assure you we'll redouble our efforts no doubt after we've seen Lismore.

Tom: You mentioned what you see is a floodplain. This is the concern, we've got a lot of people cleaning up for the second time in a couple of years or the second time in 10 years in Queensland. Whether we need to rethink where we are rebuilding, and if we're building in the same areas, how we do it. How pressing an issue is this for people, that maybe we need a really big strategic rethink in Australia on this?

Sir Peter: It's very interesting. I mean, we're all subject to being Monday morning quarterbacks to think after the event. Should people have built there, shouldn't they have taken into account floodplain issues and all that sort of thing. But who could have predicted or comprehended that there would be such an enormous inundation? Who could have predicted? I understand and I can sympathise with people saying, ‘Oh, should we rebuild there?’ But in the lottery of life, I don't want to try to be an expert myself and simply say, this time we find our fellow Australians in desperate need, let's help them. Let science and politicians and other leaders get together and work out what should be done next. The need is now, and the logic of what we do next has to wait.

Tom: Okay. I guess perhaps it's up to them if we are going to do this differently. I understand what you're saying in terms of certainly it doesn't preclude people helping right now. What about, just finally, you've got a bit of experience in this area, the ADF is increasingly being called out to these natural emergencies. Do you think we need a specialist unit within the ADF? Because we're also living in a very heightened national security atmosphere at the moment. Do we need maybe a specialist sort of reservist unit that does this stuff almost fulltime?

Sir Peter: Tom, it's a very topical question and I opined on this in the last week or so. I believe the ADF should be, quite simply dedicated to its war fighting role, that is to hopefully deter conflict ever occurring. But when that occurs, to be expert and therefore better at it and safer at it than their opponent. I'm reluctant to see the ADF itself specialise in disaster relief. But I am attracted to the notion of having, under the government's hand, both state and federal, people who can backfill those wonderful people who are locals. That is the fire and rescue, regional fire service, the SES, those people, they're fantastic. But what I see about them is that they will need reinforcement at early stages after there's been a natural disaster. I think regionally based, federally funded response forces, disaster relief forces who are expert in the sort of skills, handling small boats, firefighting drills, all those sorts of things, even operating with helicopters, those sorts of skills are very important and maybe we can contemplate having something like that going forward.

Tom: Okay, we appreciate your time, we know it's a busy one. We'll let you get it back out there and talk to locals. Peter Cosgrove from BizRebuild, thanks for your time today.

Sir Peter: Thank you, and thanks for your interest at Sky News.


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