States and territories like the ACT, Queensland and Tasmania are being asked to increase their hotel quarantine places to allow more Australians to get home from overseas.
Following the national cabinet meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said governments were working to increase the number of Australians able to return home, but it involved states agreeing to take more people and commercial airlines agreeing to fly to cities other than Sydney.
"We noted that New South Wales has been doing all the heavy lifting on this, and they really are at their capacity for the time being," Mr Morrison said.
"The transport minister will be working with others to see if we can get flights that currently all seek to come to Sydney, to see if we're in a position to try and get them to go into other ports, whether that be in Perth, in Adelaide, in Darwin, the ACT, or elsewhere, even Tasmania."
There are more than 23,000 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as overseas and wanting to come home, 3450 of which were considered vulnerable.
Mr Morrison said he wanted more Australians to get home, and that states and territories signing on to the new definition of COVID-19 hotspots to open up travel between states, which would also open up hotel quarantine capacity across the country. A proposed travel bubble between COVID-free parts of Australia and COVID-free parts of New Zealand would also take pressure off the system, he said.
"What I got agreement out of those other states and territories today was that they would be open, and work with us to take further flights in those places if we can get the planes to fly there," Mr Morrison said.
"These are commercial flights, they're not flights run by the Australian government. I'd be surprised if they were running at anything other than a massive loss on every single flight."
Under the current arrangements Victoria was no longer taking any international arrivals as it dealt with its outbreak, and Sydney was taking 90 per cent of arrivals.
Around 4000 people were able to arrive into hotel quarantine in Australia each week, with Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide taking the remaining returnees.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr put a dampener on the prime minister's announcement on Friday afternoon, saying the ACT had no capacity to take flights from overseas.
The capital could become a port for New Zealanders to arrive, taking the pressure off hotel quarantine in other cities, he said.
He said the ACT was working with former finance minister Jane Halton, who was leading a review of the hotel quarantine system, to ensure lessons were learned from the Victorian situation.
Mr Barr said a quarantine hotel would need to be solely a quarantine hotel - with no other guests - and the ACT would only have capacity for one plane a fortnight to arrive.
South Australia Premier Steven Marshall was more receptive to the idea, saying Australia as a nation needed to increase capacity.
"We will be making plans over the next month to gradually and carefully, incrementally increase our capacity within those hotel quarantines," he said.
"Many thousands of South Australians are still stranded overseas and I know their loved ones would like to see them coming back."