Sir Peter Cosgrove interview with Alan Jones, 2GB, The Alan Jones Breakfast Show

Event:  BizRebuild Chair General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC(Mil) CVO MC (RETD) interview on 2GB with Alan Jones

Speaker: Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild chair; Alan Jones, host

Date: 3 March 2020

Alan Jones, host: Now I'm not piddling in his pocket but there could be no better person Australia-wide than the former Governor General Peter Cosgrove. Sir Cosgrove is now spearheading a business community program to help, well, it was fire affected communities get back on their feet. Now, I argued from the outset, as you know, months ago this bloke should have been put in charge of the whole bushfire show. Because he knows how to fight wars and this is a war now and small business are in desperate straits. I thought we'd talk to him each week to just get an update and he's on the line. So Peter, good morning.

Sir Peter Cosgrove, BizRebuild Chair: Good morning, Alan. How are you today?

Alan: I'm well my friend. You're a good man. You're always optimistic. Has anyone suggested to you that your programme, which is to help fire affected communities, should be extended to assist all small business because now the coronavirus is a big issue.

Sir Peter: Well, I guess that's the bigger the problem, the more diverse the problem, the more focus and probably ingenuity in the solutions. But what we're doing here is a race against time and despair. So there's been a sense that obviously some businesses lock up and walk away. And our job is to prevent that whatever the reason because we're talking about a series of communities which have taken a real belt across the back of the head from natural disaster. And if viruses and the like mean that tourism is even less likely to occur, then we're really racing the situation as distinct from the vector of damage.

Alan: Yes.

Sir Peter: We're looking at fire, but it could well be that another blow is because of the things preventing people from travelling.

Alan: It's massive, Peter. Peter it's massive. I'm just looking at some figures here or I was last night. You're talking about small business. Since September last year, that's six months ago, there've been 654 applications for almost $17 million in assistance, but only 108 have been approved. This is the point. And for farmers, 1200 applications for 71 million in primary producer grants. Fewer than half of those have been approved. This is the problem. How do people penetrate this wall?

Sir Peter: Well, what we're doing is avoiding the wall. What we've been doing is we've had a big week. We've handed out $43,000 worth of vouchers for people to get business planning advice from lawyers and accountants in their community. We've given out $106,000 worth of vouchers for people to replace tools and the like. In Eurobodalla, East Gippsland, Bega what we're doing is sticking to our knitting a little. I think on the other, I suppose we've got age old dilemma of lots of money on the one hand but the stewardship, the accountability for the tax payers money that is being handed out. I know it can be extremely frustrating.

Alan: Very.

Sir Peter: We're lucky with what we do because we've got-

Alan: That's not tax payer's money.

Sir Peter: We are on behalf of the business community just shovelling out as fast as we can go.

Alan: But see, what I said last week I mean I don't understand why this money isn't taken away from bureaucrats. Last night I had a yarn with Tony Abbott, I couldn't believe it. He rattled off, he wasn't trying to prove anything. He was just talking about the difficulty that outfits are facing in the aftermath of the bushfires. And he just rattled off every town, little village and every pub and whatever. I said, "It's amazing,"  he said, "I've been out there on the Polly Pedal." Now you and Abbott and Andrew Constance and whatever would know immediately where this money should go. Why isn't it released to people like you who are on the ground?

Sir Peter: That's a question, we would love to use anybody's money that is available to us to apply. We happen to be targeting the business community. A lot of the other donated money gets tied up in the trust funds of the Red Cross or Salvos and all those sort of wonderful people. And they might see a situation where they'd love to spend the money but their rules say they can't.

Alan: I know.

Sir Peter: Now it's a bit of a dilemma. I dare say if we were to focus on something for the future, we would say we need to aggregate these funds in some way.

Alan: Definitely. Put it under one roof.

Sir Peter: Perhaps people to revisit the charter of their trust to say, "Now can we get more flexibility in here?"

Alan: I think we need a national disaster fund, Peter. Where that money would be there and people like you could administer the funding. It'd be appropriated every budget time. We'd have built up millions and responsible people like you and Abbott and Julia Gillard. Those people could be administering that fund and we just get it out to people in need. Is there a number that people can make contact with your people if they think you might be able to help them?

Sir Peter: Yes, and I'm going to have it passed to you for reading out later on. I'm standing upright in Brisbane. My research staff are several hundred miles on their way to Kangaroo Island.

Alan: Oh well there you are, that's another story. We'll Peter, get that stuff to me, we'll talk to you next week.

Sir Peter: God bless Alan.

Alan: You too.

Sir Peter: Thanks very much for your interest.