Scott Morrison has declared "the time has come to give Australians their lives back", with the international border to reopen next month in jurisdictions that have reached 80 per cent full-vaccination.
The border abruptly slammed shut in March 2020, with Australians requiring an exemption to leave the country and those seeking to return subject to stringent caps ever since.
But under a plan unveiled by the Prime Minister on Friday, fully-vaccinated Australians, permanent residents, and their family members will undergo seven-day home quarantine from November, in states and territories able to implement the system.
Fully-vaccinated Australians will face no travel restrictions leaving Australia, though other countries may implement their own restrictions to entry.
Mr Morrison heralded the development as an "important next step" in Australia emerging from COVID-19.
"It is a great and terrible thing that [liberties] have had to be taken away because of the pandemic. We've all understood it. We've all worked through it. We've all suffered through it," he said.
"But the time has come to give Australians their lives back. We're getting ready for that and Australia will be ready for take off very soon."
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Australians unable to be vaccinated, including under 12s, will be treated as vaccinated for the purpose of travel. There will be no cap on the number of arrivals.
Australians who elect not to be vaccinated, or those vaccinated with a jab not recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will undergo a 14-day hotel quarantine period.
But the TGA has advised that two new vaccines, Sinovac and Covishield, should be considered as "recognised vaccines" for incoming travellers, a measure which would remove a major impediment facing those attempting to returning from India and China.
Whether or not a negative test result will be required before departure, a rule applied by most international airlines regardless, will be subject to medical advice expected in the coming weeks.
The federal government was also working on quarantine-free travel to certain nations - including New Zealand, Singapore, and countries in the South Pacific - when it is safe. It will offer facilitated flights to states and territories that agree to adopt the seven-day home quarantine model, already trialled in NSW and South Australia.
There were no plans to implement a "red light" system, banning travel to high-risk countries, for vaccinated Australians. But further decisions on whether they will apply to the unvaccinated will be made in the next month.
"You can go where you want to go. That is subject only to the normal restrictions and advice that is provided by DFAT, which is put there for people's safety," Mr Morrison said.
And with Queensland and Western Australia lagging behind on vaccination, the new system has raised the prospect of some Australians being able to travel to Europe before they could return to their home state.
Mr Morrison said internal borders were a matter for premiers and chief ministers, but the Commonwealth would not be held back by slow vaccination rates in certain jurisdictions.
"What I'm not going to do is to stop people coming back to Australia because other states and territories are where they are at. I want us to get moving. I want people to be able to come home," he said.
The time has come to give Australians their lives back.Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Mr Morrison warned states closing their borders beyond November would face internal pressure.
"The question is: how can you go to Bali or Fiji, but you can't go to Queensland? I'm sure there are plenty of tourism operators in Queensland who will be asking that question," he said.
"But when vaccination rates hit 80 per cent in Queensland, there'll be opportunity for Queensland to join an open country."
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged the state's border to NSW would soon "basically be open", with a timeframe to be announced next week. He said Victoria was "very keen" to trial home quarantine, and would work through details with the Commonwealth.
"Where we're headed is a situation where NSW and Victoria will not only be open to each other, and open internally, we'll be open to the world also. I think that's a very, very good thing," he said.
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Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron welcomed the international travel plan, but conceded the two regular international airlines flying into ACT before the pandemic - Singapore and Qatar - would not return in the near future.
"We will work hard on it and make sure it is as soon as it possibly can be," he said.
Mr Byron said significant steps had already been taken to ensure the airport could safely reintegrate interstate and international travel.
"We are waiting and making sure we are ready. We [will] have 100 per cent of all airport workers across all businesses in the terminal fully vaccinated from 15 October," he said.
He praised the ACT's vaccination uptake - the territory was on track to reach 90 per cent full vaccination by the end of October - which ensured Canberrans were not a danger to people in other states and territories.
"All credit to the ACT government and to the community. It's due to the community but it's also due to the messaging - the quality and clarity - as well as the organisational ability," Mr Byron said.
Qantas will bring forward the restart of its international flights, initially slated for the beginning of December, to November 14. The national carrier will operate three weekly return flights between Sydney and London, and between Sydney and Los Angeles.
Its first London-Sydney flight, put up for sale on Friday afternoon, had sold out by Friday evening. The national carrier has added an additional two return flights along the route in the second half of November to meet surging demand.
Managing director of Civic Travel Claus Dirnberger revealed he had already ticketed outbound flights on the presumption international travel would resume in December.
But he said the acceleration provided more certainty after more than 18 months that had decimated the industry. He said turnover had been slashed by about 90 per cent since the border closed. He no longer drew a salary, and was forced to cut his staff from four to one.
"It's been extremely difficult. We've had to do all sorts of double-somersaults to get through this period," he said.
Mr Dirnberger had particular praise for the introduction of home quarantine, saying hotel quarantine remaining would have proved a disincentive for travellers.
"All the friends and clients we've got are basically saying: if it's hotel quarantine, I'm not going," he said.
"If its home quarantine, fine. We'll keep with all the regulations and rules ... but if it's hotel quarantine, from a financial and psychological point of view, no."
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said the return of international travel had been delayed by the federal government's initially sluggish vaccine rollout.
"There'll be those Australians who heard that they'd be allowed to come home to Australia by last Christmas, who are still waiting after a year to get home. We need to actually start delivering and less announcements," he said.
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