International travel will largely remain out of reach of most Australians until the second half of 2022, with the country's borders remaining shut except for 'travel bubbles' opening up on a country-by-country basis.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg mapped out the revised timeline during this evening's 2021 budget, based on "assumptions around vaccine rollout and around border closures and around the containment measures that are put in place in respect to COVID-19."
"Our first priority is to keep Australians safe from COVID," Frydenberg said.
Speaking with ABC TV following his budget speech, Frydenberg noted it was "quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year."
Australia closed its international borders in March 2020 against the first swell of the coronavirus pandemic, which means that the nation will have been isolated for more than two years before the majority of people can dust off their passports.
The budget papers stated "inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur."
This is despite an additional $1.9 billion being directed to the country's vaccination program, with the aim of achieving a "population-wide" vaccine rollout by the end of this year – although the papers don't specify if this includes the second jab, which typically trails the first by three months.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham later told media that the border timetable was an "assumption" rather than a binding government decision, and that the government remained eager to reopen Australia's borders as soon as health advice allows.
"International borders we wish to see reopen as early as possible, but no sooner than it is safe to do so, and the key assumption in the budget is that Australia continues to successfully suppress the spread of COVID-19," he said.
The move has forced Qantas to push back a planned October 31 2021 restart of its whole international network, in line with the government's revised timeline for both "the completion of Australia’s vaccine rollout to end-2021 and its timeline for significantly reopening our international borders to mid-2022."