Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM interview with Joe O'Brien, ABC News Mornings

4 February 2020

Event          Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM interview with Joe O'Brien, ABC News Mornings

Speaker      Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM, Joe O'Brien

Date            4 February 2020

Topics        BizRebuild

Joe O’Brien, host: Brigadier Rupert Hoskin has been recruited from the army to help get the project underway. He joins us now from Eden on the New South Wales south coast. Brigadier Rupert Hoskin, welcome. So how have you become involved in this?

Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM, BizRebuild: Great to be speaking with you. So, the Business Council of Australia set up an initiative especially to harness the generosity of the business community. As they assembled the team, they just reached out to wherever they could find the sort of expertise they needed. So, in addition to legal people, finance people, et cetera, General Sir Peter Cosgrove reached out to the defence force and said, "have you got someone who can help us, that’s got a bit of a background in planning and operations and perhaps engineering?" So, I was lucky enough to get the call.

Joe: So, you haven't got your greens on now, but are you actually still in the army?

Rupert: I'm still in the army but it's very much a different form of assistance, it's the sort of thing, I guess where we develop the right kind of background in things. And my role is purely to join the BCA team and do whatever is helpful to what they are doing. Very good other people and organisations are coordinating the ADF effort, I'm just an individual helping out.

Joe: Yeah. So, tell us about this idea and what you think of it?

Rupert: So, the wider program is really all about communities. The Business Council of Australia, a peak body, is really there to harness the incredible generosity of a lot of the business community. And it's very clear that the problems on the ground in communities are partly caused by the fact that the economies of these areas have taken such a hit. So, we are there simply, the Mogo example is just one of many, we are there to really help revitalise businesses in a way that will get the communities up and running. I think it's great.

Joe: And so, tell us how this is going to work in Mogo?

Rupert: So in Mogo, like in other places, we've just gone out on the ground, met people, heard their stories, listened carefully and worked out what is the best thing to get them moving and do so in a quick way. So in this case, Mogo, lots of businesses lost their premises. We were there the other day and there was a wonderful leather works business…

Joe: Lorena Granados!

Rupert: Exactly!

Joe: I've come across her as well, isn't she great!

Rupert: Lorena! I'm wearing one of her belts right now. Perhaps you can understand that how that might have worked out. They were by the road trading under a donated gazebo on some trestle tables and on a stinking hot day. Really just out there doing what small businesses do best and getting out there and doing their job. So, we had a wonderful chat with her and many others from the Business Chamber of Commerce in Mogo and the thing that became clear was that they needed a premise from which to trade.

Joe: And so how are you going to provide that premise? Because I came across her last weekend, and they were just packing up, she'd set up after their business had been totally obliterated. And they had this like donated table and donated goods that they were selling by the side of the road. She said that the community spirit there is so strong, and they wanted to be there for their customers and they have to keep earning a living. They can't live on air.

Rupert: This is exactly right. Cashflow is king at the moment. There's been a two-stage disaster. There's been the fires themselves and the destruction and the stress and all of the experience that's come with that. And then there's a much wider tragedy played out where a massive hole has been driven through the business cycle, if you like, in that most profitable time of year for all too many of the businesses in all these bushfire areas. The sooner they can get back and trading the better.

Joe: And so you're going to truck in demountables and set them up on the side of the road there. Tell us how it's going to work?

Rupert: Right, so we reached out to ATCO who had said they made demountable buildings and figured they would be useful. They were spot on. They immediately agreed to loan for the long term - up to two years - for the period necessary to rebuild in place, enough demountable buildings to create a pop-up mall. So around about ten businesses in Mogo will go in there, we'll set it up on a site that has been very kindly donated by a local business on a loan basis and we will establish a place not only where they can trade but also where they can work and be alongside each other as a community. I can tell you I came from there this morning, we spent a long time with them there yesterday, that sense of getting a direction, some hope and doing it together is already incredibly palpable in the community.

Joe: And time is of the essence for these people, they need to get those businesses back up and running as soon as possible. How soon will you be able to get those demountables in there and operational? Because you'll have to hook up electricity and stuff.

Rupert: Exactly. So, at the end of next week our plan is to roll them out of Sydney on a convoy of trucks donated by Linfox - again who rallied immediately when we asked for their help and deliver them on-site on Saturday week the 15th February. No pressure. A lot of work to happen between now and then. But I have put it out there and as soon as we can after that we are going to use the equity trust that we have kindly raised money from donors and we will paying local businesses to do the other work. For example, setting up the internal carpentry, a big deck, an over roof - all those things that will make it really habitable. We are paying locals to work.

Joe: This is such a good story and something that is happening independent of government. 

Rupert: I wouldn't say independent from government actually, we have a very tight relationship with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

Joe: Okay.

Rupert: And also with the state government in that particular case in New South Wales [inaudible], so I know they are all rallying behind. But our lead point of contact is the business community through the chamber of commerce.

Joe: You said this is one example, Mogo is one little spot where there's been terrible devastation but it's just so good to hear such a positive story out of this terrible bushfire crisis but this will be happening in other communities as well? Can you tell us how extensive this effort is going to be?

Rupert: So you make a great point. This is one of many. What we are trying to do is get out of the door quickly with initiatives that prototype the solutions we're doing, establish what we can achieve and then give hope to people. To give people an idea of what can be done. So, we're undergoing an extensive series of visits on-site into each community across all of the bushfire affected areas in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and in Queensland. And we're looking for initiatives like this. There are other things we're doing like helping people re-tool. We know businesses where they might have had insurance for the building but then their tools might not be covered. Well, we can help with that.

Joe: Yeah.

Rupert: Also providing advice to people. A lot of people are really suffering from the stress and the complete sense of confrontation whereas we can help them think strategically and work their way through what support they are entitled too and help them plan ahead.

Joe: Yeah it's so good to hear such a positive story out of this and it must be so cool for you to be involved in this personally, bringing joy to these people. We'd love to be there on the 15th February when you roll into Mogo so we will definitely keep in touch with you. Thank you so much for having a chat to us this morning Rupert Hoskin and good luck with your work. 

Rupert: Thank you very much and look forward to welcoming you to that event.