A majority of Australians believe a COVID-free world is at least five years away and support a partial reopening of borders in the meantime, according to a new survey.
The research comes as the University of Sydney, backed by former NSW premier Mike Baird, ups its pressure on the federal government in a new report arguing international students - worth more than $40 billion nationwide - should be allowed to return.
Their call to partially open borders is echoed by other struggling industries across the country, and at least two states, but the federal government says international travel remains at least a year off.
The university's policy lab assembled a high-profile task force - which includes representatives from the law, education and arts sectors - to put together a 'Roadmap to Reopening' they hope will be presented to national cabinet.
The first step proposed is successfully implementing a comprehensive vaccine program, but the task force also argues the door into "fortress Australia" can be cracked open slightly to allow sector-specific migration programs.
The country's tourism, agriculture, education and creative industries would be a good place to start, it says.
Safeguards would be in place, including rigorous border testing, more quarantine capacity and a certification scheme to ensure travellers were vaccinated.
Mr Baird, now chief executive of aged care provider HammondCare, says Australia's approach to international borders is at a critical turning point.
"The risk of fortress Australia being entrenched is real," he told the audience at the launch of the report.
"We could be Rapunzel in her tower.
"That's easy - we're away, we're safe.
"But is that the right response?"
Chair of the task force Mark Rigotti said public opinion had turned since election wins for incumbent governments in Queensland and Western Australia which were seen as a vote on strict border closures.
He pointed to polling conducted for the task force.
"We discovered, much to our delight, that there was majority support for each of the concrete recommendations we make," he said.
The survey of more than 1000 people found only five per cent believe the virus will be under control in most countries within a year.
Some 41 per cent of respondents said it would take two to five years for most countries to get the upper hand, while a third said they believed the world would never be COVID-free.
Despite those misgivings, more than half of respondents said they would support travel between countries where people are fully vaccinated and the virus is under control.
Similarly 54 per cent said they would back the return of international students who were fully vaccinated and subject to university-provided quarantine, while 47 per cent said they would support the entry and quarantine of farm workers if they were from low-COVID countries.
NSW and Victoria have already submitted proposals to the federal government that would allow the return of international students.
Trans-Tasman travel has also recently resumed, and agriculture workers have been allowed into Australia under strict conditions from the Pacific Islands.
Mr Rigotti says he hopes the report prompts a further shift from the "holding pattern" of 2020.
"I hope it helps ... us to win the peace and not just the war," he said.
Australian Associated Press