Scott Morrison is staring down growing calls from business groups, health officials and his own colleagues to set a framework for reopening the international border.
"I understand everyone is keen to get back to a time that we once knew. The reality is we're living this year in a pandemic that is worse than last year," the prime minister told reporters on Tuesday.
"I understand we want to be able to prepare to get us into a place that when it is safe to do so, that we can make changes in that area, but right now it is not safe to do so."
Instead, Mr Morrison is trying to shift attention to domestic borders, which he is not responsible for.
He has suggested people who are fully vaccinated should be free to move across the country, regardless of outbreaks or local lockdowns.
"But also potentially to be able to travel overseas and have different quarantine arrangements on their return, with the sign-off from state chief health officers," he said.
The prime minister again confirmed he was considering other longer-term plans, including travel bubbles with countries such as Singapore, and welcoming international students and skilled migrants back into Australia.
Virgin Australia chief executive Jane Hrdlicka has warned Australia cannot keep its borders shut indefinitely despite the risk of coronavirus.
The airline boss said as long as vaccination rates were high enough and vulnerable people were protected, the country should take the risk of opening again sooner than mid next year.
Ms Hrdlicka said some people could become sick, but would not end up in hospital.
"Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu," she told a business lunch.
The prime minister said her comments were "somewhat insensitive" and pointed out 910 Australians had died from coronavirus.
Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner was at the event and agreed with the Virgin boss.
"What she said actually made sense, it's just the correlation probably doesn't sound that good," he told Nine.
"But her basic thing was that it's like the flu. A couple of thousand people die every year from the flu here. It's going to be the same with the coronavirus, even when people are vaccinated widely."
Gladys Berejiklian fears Australia could lag behind other countries as the rest of the world opens up.
But she will only be comfortable reopening the international border when five million people in NSW - more than half the population - receive their double-dose vaccinations.
At the moment, only one million jabs have been distributed across the state.
"New South Wales is keen to see us be in a position where it's safe enough to open our borders as soon as possible," Ms Berejiklian said.
"If we get the majority of our population vaccinated, then we can think about opening our international borders, and that's what New South Wales is working really hard to achieve.
"I hope if the vaccine rollout is better than anticipated that date can be brought forward."
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud rejected the comments from the Virgin boss, saying the federal government would take its advice from health officials, not from chief executives of corporate companies.
He also tried to apply pressure to state and territory leaders.
"There is no point opening up international borders if we still have premiers with restrictions between states," Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.
Australian Associated Press