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PM says repatriation flights from India 'on track' to resume May 15

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Australia has indicated it is on track to restart repatriation flights from India where thousands of people are stranded under a controversial travel ban.

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But the 9000 citizens and permanent residents who want to return home could be forced to wait months to board a plane because of the nation’s quarantine capacity.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is adamant the pause has worked to ease the pressure on the quarantine centre at Howard Springs in the NT.

“The early evidence indicates that that temporary pause to the 15th of May is on track,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.

“We are very hopeful and confident that on the other side of 15th of May we will be able to start restoring those repatriation flights.”

Cabinet’s national security committee will convene on Thursday afternoon ahead of Morrison chairing a meeting of state and territory leaders on Friday.

While the number of vulnerable Australians in India has soared from 600 to 900, the prime minister said no one required medical evacuation.

The federal government is facing a legal challenge to the travel ban, with lawyers arguing the restrictions are unconstitutional.

Morrison shrugged off concerns from human rights groups about the pause but refused to be drawn on the legal action while it is before the courts.

“We’re doing the right thing,” he told 3AW radio.

The prime minister insists there is almost no chance harsh fines and jail time will be imposed on anyone who tries to return from India.

But that has not satisfied Gary Newman, 73, who has been stuck in India for more than a year and has launched court action against the ban.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is not committing to a timeline for stranded and vulnerable Australians to find a way out of India.

“This Indian situation will take some time,” he told ABC radio.

“There is no way we can work through the Indian system immediately to remove every person, if indeed they wanted to go – it will take some time.”

Meanwhile, a stoush between the government and retired Test cricketer Michael Slater continues to fester.

Slater has doubled down on his criticism of the travel ban, challenging the prime minister to take his private jet to India and witness dead bodies on the street.

While Morrison labelled his criticism absurd earlier in the week, he is now trying to lower the temperature.

“I understand his frustration and I understand his deep concern for the people of India.”

The prime minister said he was more understanding Australians of Indian descent or heritage with family affected by the crisis.

Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud slammed the former Australian cricket star.

“He is acting like a spoilt prat and he needs to grow up and think about the big issues at play,” he told Nine Network.

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