Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Nick Rheinberger, ABC Illawarra09 March 2020
Event: BizRebuild Chair General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC(Mil) CVO MC (RETD) interview on ABC Illawarra with Nick Rheinberger
Speaker: Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild Chair; Nick Rheinberger, host
Topics: BizRebuild, bushfire recovery
Nick Rheinberger, host: Now, as I've mentioned several times, in some ways it's simple if your business has been burnt down. If you're premises have burnt down, you can simply apply to your insurance company to rebuild your business and perhaps compensate for loss of business, but what about just the business that is missing from the south coast, as people have not been able to spend their usual Christmas holidays there? How do we rebuild it? Well, there is an organisation which has been set up by the Business Council of Australia, called BizRebuild. We've already spoken about this pretty extraordinary moment when several demountable buildings were trucked into Mogo, so those businesses could actually start to trade. What else are BizRebuild doing? Well, the person who's the chair of BizRebuild is Sir Peter Cosgrove. He used to lead the military in Australia, and of course was recently our Governor General, and he's been good enough to join us this morning here at ABC Illawarra. Mr Cosgrove, good morning.
Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild chair: Good morning, how are you going this morning Nick?
Nick: I'm going well. Spent a bit of time on the south coast last Friday, broadcasting from Milton and I'm seeing it busy. They said they used to have a Friday rush, and at least now they've got a Thursday rush.
Sir Peter: Yes.
Nick: Are you seeing the sort of rush on back to some of these places?
Sir Peter: Well, I was at Ulladulla on Sunday and I can tell you that there was a fair few people. There was a bit of a buzz. We went to a coffee shop, and I won't tell you which one because the lady had on the front door, for sale, so I was hoping like billy-o that that wasn't fire related but this is Ulladulla where of course the fire got pretty close but left the town alone. Just you know what I wanted to say up front, because I think people are getting a little confused. The Rural Fire Service of course have played a marvellous hand in helping and saving communities.
Sir Peter: But I'm a little bit worried about the Fire and Rescue which is located in the towns, and they were out there too and they don't get much of a go. I think people need to understand that if you were a fireman down in the fire areas, you got busy.
Nick: Well, there's no doubt about it. I mean, Fire and Rescue, we saw actually literally get overtaken by flames several times, and their trucks literally melted underneath them and they would have to walk out, so they were right in the middle of the danger area. We know that, yeah. Fair enough.
Sir Peter: Yeah, look just a public awareness thing. Because on the weekend I was talking to some folks who were in Fire and Rescue and they were just thinking, well, there was some function where everybody said, dtand up the Rural Fire Service and give them a clap. And they were there, so the Fire and Rescue guys didn't stand up because they're not them.
Nick: Well, I could see that would be awkward.
Sir Peter: Yep.
Nick: Fair enough.
Sir Peter: I think there's going to be some kind of ticker tape parade going down the south coast, isn't there?
Sir Peter: For all the firies?
Nick: Yes, I think the Shoalhaven are organising that, and I know they'd be invited.
Sir Peter: Oh, I hope they are!
Nick: So, let's talk about BizRebuild and what you're trying to achieve?
Sir Peter: Of course. Well, what we're doing is in a bit of a race because we know that there were lots of businesses put under enormous pressure. You, I think, summed it up well. If you got your business burnt down, well that's one thing, and as you say, with any prudent preparation, you will have been insured, you'll be able to get some money from the insurance company, and at least then you've got then choices, although, I dare say, if you haven't immediately got a premises out of which to operate, that's a problem, but I'm thinking about the ones who don't get business because nobody comes, or nobody spends, and they're the people we're particularly in a race to help. We have these flying squads we call them but they rush around, they get together with business folks, with the chambers of commerce and the local government. They talk to them with experts on our side of the table, and people with needs on the other, and we find out what it is that is particularly crushing them. And sometimes we can help. Often we can help. So, we're going to be in the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands, Richmond Valley, Hawkesbury. We're starting to move further north with our visiting teams. But the process is, a team arrives in, meetings are scheduled. We have little clinics across the table with business folk who tell us what their particular concerns are. We then provide immediate financial assistance by way of vouchers. Vouchers that are going to be spent locally.
Nick: Okay. Here is the big issue it seems to me with business, and it possibly goes to the heart of your coffee shop owner, that is if your business has been burnt out, like Cobargo or Mogo, for instance, that's clearly a tragedy but is easy to assess, how do you assess the damage to a business with the fact that all of their customers were told to get out of the south coast for two months, and that is 50% or more of their yearly business?
Sir Peter: Well, we understand profoundly that, and we know that if those people go under, that starts to break down the glue of a community. That if the shops and the enterprises that they would normally use very locally, aren't in business, then again there's a fragmenting of the whole community. I'll give you an example, a smash repair guy. If some smash repair person says, "That's it, I'm off." And if you've got to talk your car some other long distance to get something done and then you join a long queue because there's fewer of them around, then that's a disincentive for yourself. Add it up, multiply it who will remain in the area. So, we're conscious of that.And what we do is we try to find the reasons why, and it's normally cashflow, why people are about to go under. There's things that can be done there, but we bring in business experts to work, not just for them, but to seek to negotiate, if you like, with people who have lent them money, to see if they can take a compassionate approach. So, that sort of thing. So, we're aware of that.
Nick: Yeah, are there governmental grants that are available to people in that position if they can prove their loss of business, they're difference in their usual cashflow?
Sir Peter: I understand there's loans, but you have to apply. And I mean, it is a loan, it's pretty soft loans, as I understand it, but I have not sought to make myself expert on that. My people are experts, they will say to Mr. Smith who's about to lock the door on his business, "Hey, have you gone and applied for your government relief grant or soft loan?" And that's under the National Disaster Act where people can receive, as business folk, a lump sum to tide them over.
Nick: Is it a worry where people might be selling things under severe pressure and they'll take a really low price that there'll be people coming into those areas and buying up literally at fire sale prices in the hope that everything will be back next Christmas?
Sir Peter: Yeah, of course. Yeah, look, that will be awful, but let's say, we want the business to still be there. So, if people make a commercial decision to sell whatever it is to the person who came in and they negotiate a price, well, we would feel sad that the community store ward, being the original owner, is now not in business, but if the business keeps operating, okay, well that's a smaller impact than if the business closes down and next thing you see they've got vacancy signs on it.
Nick: Right. Sir Peter Cosgrove, been very good to talk to you today. Thank you very much for having a chat to me.
Sir Peter: Thanks very much indeed, Nick.