All states and territories except Western Australia will aim to lift their hard border closures by Christmas.
Most jurisdictions have also signed onto an agricultural code to allow seasonal workers to cross state lines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is changing the rules governing national cabinet after failing to secure consensus on easing restrictions.
“Not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.
“But it is important the bus leaves the station, and we all agree on that.”
Border closures dominated Mr Morrison’s fortnightly meeting with premiers and chief ministers.
All states and territories except WA agreed to reach the third and final stage of restriction relief by the end of December.
WA Premier Mark McGowan says it could be some time before the borders open.
“Unlike the rest of the country, WA is not currently in a recession,” he said.
“So we won’t be prematurely reopening our borders. If we went too soon it could be deadly, and there would be economic devastation.”
He said his state was propping up the national economy.
“Where do they think their money comes from? It comes out of WA. So for them to demand that we bring down our borders is not in their interests.”
Premiers and chief ministers – except for WA – also endorsed the idea of defining coronavirus hotspots.
But they rejected a complex definition provided by the nation’s acting chief medical officer.
That definition says the starting point for a hotspot is 10 locally acquired cases a day over three consecutive days in metropolitan areas, and three locally acquired cases daily over the same period in regional Australia.
“This will take some time to get that right,” Mr Morrison said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a consistent national approach to defining a hotspot “would give states both courage and the imprimatur to bring down their borders”.
Victorian leader Dan Andrews said there was no alternative but to ease his state out of restrictions “in a safe and steady way”.
“The notion of opening up quickly … will not be a lasting thing that we do. It will be five minutes of sunshine and we will be back into these sorts of restrictions again.”
Mr Morrison also asked premier and chief ministers to endorse a national agricultural code to allow seasonal workers to travel over state lines.
Five out of eight jurisdictions signed up, but Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania declined.
As well, the national cabinet agreed to relax the weekly limit on stranded Australians returning home from overseas.
There are more than 23,000 Australians abroad who want to return, a third of whom are in India.
The federal government has imposed a weekly cap of 4000 international passengers to ease the burden on state hotel quarantine systems.
Premiers and chief ministers will look to ease the burden on NSW, which is doing most of the heavy lifting.
Australia’s coronavirus death toll has passed 700 after Victoria announced 59 new deaths.
Fifty of the deaths occurred in July and August but were only reported on Friday.
There have now been 737 deaths from coronavirus across the country.