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PM sticks by India travel ban as Premier pushes regional quarantine solution

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Queensland has revived its push for regional quarantine facilities to accommodate Australians returning from overseas as Prime Minister Scott Morrison sticks to his guns on temporarily banning people entering the country from virus-ravaged India.

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Morrison is refusing to back down from the India travel ban despite a torrent of criticism from high-profile figures and within conservative ranks.

The government is downplaying a threat to jail or fine people who dodge the flight pause, which is in place until at least May 15 because of India’s coronavirus catastrophe.

Former Test cricket opener Michael Slater, who is attempting to return home from a commentary stint in India, said the prime minister had blood on his hands over the decision.

While Morrison labelled the accusation absurd on breakfast TV, he tempered his language at a news conference.

“I respectfully disagree with the critics on this one,” he told reporters in Mackay on Tuesday.

“But the buck stops here when it comes to these decisions. I am going to take decisions that I believe will protect Australia from a third wave.”

Queensland is again urging the federal government to look at regional quarantine options.

Speaking following a state cabinet meeting in Longreach, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said quarantine facilities in places such as Christmas Island and regional Queensland were “good avenues” for the safe return of Australians stuck overseas.

“These are issues for the federal government. The federal government needs to sit around their cabinet table and work this out,” she said.

There are about 9000 Australians in India who want to return home, with 650 considered vulnerable.

The State Government has been campaigning for a quarantine facility near Toowoomba that needs Commonwealth approval for international flights to land at the nearby Wellcamp airport.

“I cannot understand how you cannot have a simple answer to a very simple question: ‘will you allow international flights into Wellcamp, yes or no?’,” Palaszczuk said.

“We cannot get a simple answer out of the federal government and out of Scott Morrison.”

The Wagner Corporation wants to build the quarantine facility that would host up to 1000 travellers and 300 staff, and the federal government has previously called for more details on the state’s plan.

Eight federal cross bench members and senators have written to Morrison urging him to revoke the travel ban, urgently repatriate the most vulnerable and set up facilities that are “safe, reliable and available for increasing quarantine needs”.

They included Adam Bandt, Rebekha Sharkie, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Andrew Wilkie, Bob Katter and senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff.

The crossbenchers said the threat of jail “sets a dangerous precedent”.

“We all like to sing the song ‘I still call Australia home’, but that doesn’t apply to Australians in India? Fair bloody go,” Katter said.

Meanwhile the federal government is assessing a Victorian proposal to construct a purpose-built quarantine facility at a Commonwealth site about 40km north of Melbourne.

The 500-bed facility would cost about $200 million to build, with the state government committing $15m to get the project ready for construction.

Morrison said the “detailed and comprehensive” proposal was under review.

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