Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reasserted his authority over Australia's international border in the wake of a bold move by the new NSW Premier to open the state "to the world" in a fortnight to fully vaccinated travellers.
Addressing the drawn-out, sensitive dilemma of the more than 45,000 stranded Australians overseas, Mr Morrison slapped down Dominic Perrottet's reopening plan which is to start on November 1, stressing that Australian citizens, residents and their families were to be prioritised in any resumption of commercial flights.
And in a long-awaited shift, the Prime Minister announced the definition of immediate family would be expanded to include the parents of Australian citizens, a welcome relief to many separated families.
"We are not opening up to everyone coming back to Australia at the moment. I want to be clear about that," Mr Morrison said.
"We are gonna take this forward in a staged and careful way as we've done all of these things.
"It's for the Commonwealth government, the federal government to decide when the border opens and shuts at a national level and we will do that. In the first instance, it will be for Australians, Australian residents and their families. We'll see how that goes. And then we'll move to the other priorities."
Parents of Australian citizens and permanent residents will now be classified as immediate family, allowing them to travel to Australia in states and territories that have reached 80 per cent full vaccination targets. Many families have desperately sought this change over the past 18 months.
"I know that will be very welcome news to Australians right across the country who were hoping to be reunited with their family members, their parents who are overseas," Mr Morrison told reporters.
Major airlines are now scrambling to make thousands of seats available for bookings to meet the announcement by Australia's most populous state.
Jumped ahead of other states and the aspects of the nationally agreed opening roadmap on Friday, NSW announced a plan to cast aside the "hermit kingdom" label for Australia and welcome fully vaccinated tourists and returning Australians.
"We want people back. We are leading the nation out of the pandemic," NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
"Hotel quarantine will be a thing of the past. This is a significant day for our state."
From November 1, the hotel and home quarantine systems will end in NSW for overseas travellers who undertake a PCR test for COVID-19 before they board their flight and show proof they have received a TGA-approved vaccine.
Overseas arrivals who are not fully vaccinated will be capped at just 210 people per week. They must still complete 14 days' hotel quarantine.
A home quarantine system was to be used by states and territories once a jurisdiction hits 80 per cent full vaccination. NSW and the ACT are due to do that on Sunday. NSW has been conducting a small home quarantine trial.
The Canberra Times understands neither the Prime Minister nor his office were given advance notice of the NSW announcement. Major airlines were also understood not to be in the loop.
Mr Perrottet neither confirmed nor denied he had the Prime Minister's agreement on the plan. He did say there had been numerous discussions and that returning Australians would "naturally be the first cab off the rank".
Regardless, Mr Perrottet and NSW Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres said they wanted tourists and overseas workers as part of the plan.
"We are opening Sydney and NSW to the world, and that date will come in on November 1," Mr Perrottet said.
"We can't live here in hermit kingdom. So many businesses rely on tourism for business and trade."
But it is not NSW that issues visas. It is the Commonwealth.
"The Premier understands that is a decision for the Commonwealth government not for the state government and when we believe that is a decision to make, we will make it in that time," Mr Morrison said.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr expected fully-vaccinated Australians landing in Sydney would be able to freely travel to the ACT from November 1, describing hotel quarantine for unvaccinated arrivals as a "sensible distinction".
But Mr Barr argued it was not "particularly pertinent" to the ACT, which was not expecting direct international arrivals in the short-term.
"The really outstanding issue that we will need to resolve with NSW will be what are the transit arrangements for people once they have landed in Sydney," he said.
Reacting to the news, Qantas announced it would bring forward flights from the United States and the United Kingdom, with five return Sydney to London flights and four return services to Los Angeles, from November 1.
Both services would be flown on Qantas' Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which brings the total number of extra seats to 2124 across both flight schedules.
"Removing quarantine for the fully vaccinated is a sensible approach and brings NSW into line with many other global cities," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.