Event: Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Alan Jones, 2GB, The Alan Jones Breakfast Show
Speaker: General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove (Retd), BizRebuild Chair; Alan Jones, host
Date: 18 February 2020
Alan Jones, host: Well, this might embarrass my next guest, the former Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, but I said, as you know, and I'm sure he most probably didn't hear me say this, from day one that the drought and bushfires meant that we were at war of a different kind with nature. And I said, put a bloke in charge who knows how to deploy the resources needed to win a war. And I said none better than General Cosgrove. He has an extraordinary involvement in disaster relief. Cyclone Tracy, way back in 1974; PNG tsunami in 1998; the Asian tsunami in 2004, where the defence force was involved; Cyclone Larry in North Queensland in 2006, and what about this comment? His key lesson, when the political determination is there, that commitment flows, he said, into the arms and legs of government.
Now I must give credit to my friend Tony Shepherd and the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, who made the approach to Sir Peter. We now have this thing, awfully named BizRebuild, but it's designed to get money in and kickstart operating businesses in devastated communities, and when General Cosgrove accepted the invitation to head this off, he remarked he didn't want us to succumb to disaster fatigue. Now I called it last week compassion fatigue, and he urged us all to rebuild these devastated communities. He is the former Governor General, a distinguished soldier, General Sir Peter Cosgrove on the line. Sir Peter, good morning and thank you for your time.
Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild chair: Good morning, Alan, good to be with you.
Alan: Disaster fatigue. You said someone else might have coined the term, it may have been me, hey? I said compassion fatigue.
Sir Peter: You get 100 points for that one.
Alan: He's got a good sense of humour, this bloke too. But nonetheless, you made a very, very valid point. You said you don't want people to say, “oh for heaven sake, you're still banging on about the bushfires. Let's move on.” How do we fight that fatigue?
Sir Peter: Well, you keep government up to the mark, you keep getting people to confront the bushfire damage. You encourage the mass media to get themselves out there, take the pictures and put them back on. It just remains front of mind. Every time you see a cricketer raising his bat, there ought to be a photograph on the other side of the same page of some person staring at what used to be their home.
Alan: Absolutely. Where have you been to see the devastation? Looks like Iraq bombed, doesn't it?
Sir Peter: It does a bit. Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, I've been recently to Mogo, we put up a bump up there on the weekend of 10 demountables to re-establish a little CBD. It was beaut, it was really good.
Alan: Did you have lunch at Sweetheart & Grumpy?
Sir Peter: No, I had a cup of coffee there. I didn't meet either Grumpy or Sweetheart.
Alan: Well, there was a very attractive girl behind the counter when I went in there, and I said, "Who's Sweetheart and who's Grumpy?" She said, "I'm Sweetheart, he's Grumpy." But that's wonderful. Just explain that again, so you've taken virtual demountable businesses into Mogo, tiny little community down there. Not far from Bateman's Bay.
Sir Peter: Yeah. There was a buzz because from their point of view it was exactly the tonic that would just sort of mark a drumbeat of recovery. We still need, of course, government, we need the charities to look after individuals, but we want to get business activity so people have a place to go to shop and money can start circulating back around the community.
Alan: Yeah. What Sir Peter has said to our listeners, is that he wants to quote, "prevent any business on the verge of failure from failing, to enable them to get back into commercial activity, and to support them until they're strong and functioning." Now, you're calling it, aren't you, a five year recovery and build fund run by business? Is business coming to the party?
Sir Peter: They are. Yep. We reckon we've got many millions of dollars that have either been provided in cash or in kind. The in kind part is fantastic. Imagine all these bright young things you have in the big accounting companies, they joined in order to wear a suit, and become a partner but they find themselves in Levis, and they find themselves going around saying, "look, I'm a trained accountant, can I help you with a business plan, which is pertinent to your recovery?" They're saying this to the people who are operating little shops up and down the coast, have been smashed by the fires.
Alan: So people listening to you right now, could they say, "yes, I'm listening to what Sir Peter Cosgrove is saying and I have seen them here, and I have had that support?" They'd be witnesses to this?
Sir Peter: Absolutely. We got together all of the mayors of the affected council areas and people from the chambers of commerce, so we had a room full at Parliament on the 29th of January, and even then we were having people coming up to me saying, your young people, that is these travelling teams, they call them flying squads, are marvellous. Because they sit down, they listen, they make phone calls, and stuff starts to happen.
Alan: Wonderful. This bloke has got - I say to our listeners - is this bloke can always sniff the public mood. It's his great strength. You've only been in the gig five minutes and yet you've talked about people "teetering on the edge of despair." Do you think Australians who've have not seen what you and I have seen really understand that?
Sir Peter: I think because this one was such a mass event in terms of time, the span of it, the vivid images, Australians were shocked. Funnily enough, Alan, I think it's temporarily been pushed aside by Coronavirus.
Alan: Yes, quite.
Sir Peter: People who see a koala getting a bottle of water off a firey, understand this is pretty abnormal stuff.
Sir Peter: I think the damage has sort of landed. But again, the footy season has started, I don't mean to – they’re great games, but people get distracted.
Alan: Absolutely. Good on you. Just to, on one thing, the banks. You'd made this very oblique comment, “we are suggesting to companies it would be a great contribution if they took a benign approach to the indebtedness of people who simply have no income." Now, when someone doesn't have a house and doesn't have a business, how do they meet the mortgage?
Sir Peter: Well, that's it. They've got to get a bit of forgiveness going on here. Of course, it might be the banks, because of the large things like mortgages and huge loans for agribusiness. However, it's all kinds of debtors because this is, we'll call it an indebtedness tree. Everybody owes somebody a bit of money somewhere, so all up and down the line, we need people to say, well, look, if I destroy my customer financially, then we all lose for it.
Alan: That's as you say, if we drive people under, we'll not only have an unhappy customer, we've got a bankrupt customer.
Sir Peter: Absolutely.
Alan: Now, listen, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you next week, so that we can get these updates because you're absolutely right. We've got to avoid this fatigue and we've got to keep this front and centre in the interest of people who don't have a voice. So I hope we can talk next week, Peter.
Sir Peter: Okay, thanks very much, Alan. I look forward to talking to you again.
Alan: There he is. General Sir Peter Cosgrove and I mean, I'm speaking for many people who really appreciate this initiative. Well done Tony Shepherd, Jennifer Westacott, General Sir Peter Cosgrove.