Prime Minister Scott Morrison is hoping to clinch a commitment from state premiers to return Australia to as normal as possible by Christmas.
Friday’s national cabinet meeting looms as a critical juncture on border restrictions as the federal government hunts a path for restarting travel.
Mr Morrison said the Victorian and NSW premiers didn’t want hard borders in place any longer than the health situation required.
“We cannot resign Australia to being a dislocated nation under COVID-19,” he told parliament on Tuesday.
Mr Morrison will seek agreement from premiers and chief ministers on clinical coronavirus hotspot definitions, which would guide border closures.
But he’s promised to go it alone if the states don’t sign up.
The prime minister told a coalition joint partyroom meeting on Tuesday he wanted a commitment for things to be “as normal as possible” by Christmas.
Mr Morrison downplayed frayed federal-state relations despite days of escalating attacks on Victoria from deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg.
“Our goal is not to pick fights but to get outcomes so Australians can safely get back to their lives and loved ones,” he told coalition colleagues.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is also keen to have borders open for Christmas, but urged caution about moving too quickly.
He raised the prospect of coronavirus testing before travel, saying the issue will be canvassed through national cabinet.
NSW will expand a Victorian border buffer zone from 2.5km to 50km on Friday.
A hotspot definition could put pressure on other states with low case numbers to allow travel.
The prime minister has floated the Danish traffic light hotspot system, which uses yellow to highlight open borders with cases fewer than 20 for every 100,000 residents in an area.
The orange alert level signals quarantine is needed when case rates exceed 30 per 100,000 people, while a red light bans travel when infection spikes occur.
The federal government also wants a similar staged lifting of restrictions as during the nation’s first coronavirus wave earlier in the year.
Anthony Albanese accused Mr Morrison of criticising the Queensland Labor government’s border closures, while going easy on Liberal-controlled Tasmania and South Australia.
“It’s not national and it is not a cabinet,” the Labor leader told 4BC radio.
“Scott Morrison chairs these meetings and the premiers tell each other what they’re going to do. Then he goes out and has a press conference and announces it.”
Victoria appears to be getting its deadly second wave of infections under control, with 70 new cases on Tuesday – the lowest daily increase since early July.
The state recorded another five deaths, taking the national toll to 657.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said national new infections had fallen to 771 this week, down from as high as 3465 in previous weeks.