Prime Minister Scott Morrison has conceded opening Australia’s internal borders will be up to state governments, despite making Christmas a key goal.
Mr Morrison has been pushing premiers and chief ministers to allow families to be reunited at the end of the year as part of a national agreement.
There remain ongoing tensions with state and territory governments about the plan to reduce restrictions when 70 and 80 per cent of the over-16 population is vaccinated.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has signalled he won’t abandon his hardline stance towards states with high virus cases.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash warned the same legal arguments that led the High Court to block billionaire Clive Palmer’s WA border challenge last year could change at the higher vaccine coverage threshold.
“Once you hit 80 per cent, you are in a fundamentally different position if you are looking at the issue of proportionality,” the most senior WA federal government member told The Australian.
Senator Cash said the government was not considering court action but expected Mr Palmer or others could try to overturn interstate travel bans.
Senior Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said the Morrison government had supported the billionaire’s last legal effort.
“Court challenges are ridiculous,” she told the ABC.
“When Clive Palmer wanted to take the West Australian government to court, I think he united every West Australian against him.”
The federal government argues it withdrew from the case, despite earlier intervening in support of Mr Palmer.
Liberal frontbencher Jane Hume said Senator Cash’s comments were misinterpreted as paving the way for a court challenge.
“There is going to be no High Court challenge,” she told the ABC.
“She was saying the reasoning behind that High Court challenge last year, that was taken out by Clive Palmer, the reasoning behind that really will have been diminished once we reach those vaccination rates.”
Mr Morrison said he expected leaders to ensure the country reconnected safely when high vaccination rates were reached.
“Ultimately, everything is a state matter,” he said in Canberra on Tuesday.
“But, I know that there was agreement to the national plan, which wants to see Australians come together, and we want to do that safely.”
An alliance of 80 major employers including the big four banks, Qantas, mining giant BHP, major supermarkets and energy companies has called for the national plan to be maintained.
Australia has fully vaccinated 35 per cent of its population aged 16 and over, while 58.7 have received one dose.
There were 1164 new cases in NSW on Tuesday but Premier Gladys Berejiklian made a renewed plea for states to reopen in time for Christmas.
Victoria had 120 cases on Wednesday, the first time the state has broken triple figures since last year’s deadly second wave.
Two deaths – the first in the state this year – brought the national toll to 1008 after four fatalities in NSW.