Regional areas in Australia have been some of the world's safest places during the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has said.
The Nationals leader, speaking ahead of a national summit in Canberra about regional Australia starting today, said people living in the country had followed social distancing restrictions despite the distance from capital cities.
"That's why they've largely stayed COVID-free," Mr McCormack said.
"Some of these communities haven't had a coronavirus case whatsoever, and if they have, there's only been a very small number of coronavirus cases."
Telecommunications had let workers operate in regional areas during the pandemic, he said.
"You can work from anywhere, so long as you've got a laptop and that means that regional Australia comes right into the mix," Mr McCormack said.
The government has moved parts of Commonwealth agencies to regions as it decentralises public service employers from capital cities including Canberra. Mr McCormack said the private sector needed incentives to move to regional areas as well.
"We're trying to provide that, we're looking at plans and blueprints to have a strategy in place so that businesses can relocate," he said.
He also endorsed industrial precincts being established in regional centres including Wagga Wagga and the central west NSW town of Parkes under state government programs, saying they would benefit businesses and communities.
"If you can ensure you can still do all the trade that you do or [make] the componentry that you do, it's got to be cheaper to set up in a place in the central west than doing it in areas where you constantly have neighbours worried about encroachment, noise, dare I say emissions or pollution, or whatever they get gripes about even though the factory's probably been there long before they took up residence," he said.
"These rural settings in specific industrial estates set aside for these very intensive, heavy industrial factories, it just makes perfectly good sense that those businesses can relocate to a country centre."
Mr McCormack will speak at the Regional Australia Institute's Regions Rising summit today.