You can bet there would be none of this if the bureaucrats were spending their own money

TONNES of bottled water, costing thousands of dollars, are being airlifted to Christmas Island for dehydrated asylum seekers as they step on to the arrivals wharf – despite a tap being just metres away. And the Federal Government will not splash out a couple of thousand dollars to bring a new tap closer for the thirsty arrivals, preferring to jet in the expensive bottles.

Problems arise when refugees first land on the island. Initial screening takes place at the wharf with the tap about 20m away. The asylum seekers are then moved to a construction camp – formerly used by workers who built the detention centre and now housing refugees – where the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said there were “limited options for tap water”.

The latest shipment of water, about 2.5 tonnes, was flown to the island on Monday on a department charter flight. The department would not reveal how much it cost, but a four-tonne delivery earlier this year is understood to have cost $6 a kilogram – or $24,000.

One long-standing islander, who did not want to be named said: “It’s bloody ridiculous. There’s plenty of water to drink on the island, there are taps near the wharf, but the Government won’t fix it up. “I could do it for a couple of thousand dollars. No worries.”

Flying water to the island also angered local businesses but it is understood that when the Government invited them to tender for the supply their prices were higher than the cost of air-freighting.

A department spokesman said this week’s delivery was part of a freight consignment on a charter flight. The spokeswoman said the department and its detention centre service provider Serco, had a duty of care to people in detention. “The provision of bottled water occurs when new arrivals to Christmas Island undertake their initial screening procedures and induction to immigration facilities,” she said. “The initial processing is carried out on arrival at the wharf and subsequently at the construction camp. There are limited options for tap water to be provided at both these sites. “Those people are often dehydrated from an extended period at sea and sometimes nauseous.

“The department is aware that the water supply on Christmas Island is classed as potable and fit to drink and encourages all people to drink it as a matter of course.” She said the department was “sensitive to the needs” of local traders and endeavoured to deal with them equitably. “However, on occasions it is necessary to freight large amounts independently to meet demands imposed by a sudden surge in the numbers of arrivals,” she said.

Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thomson said it was not the council’s responsibility to put taps on property “whether government or privately owned”.

The jetty and the construction camp are operated by the Commonwealth Government but a spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department, that has responsibility for the island, said: “There are taps with potable water in the picnic sites in the Flying Fish Cove area which are directly adjacent to the wharf. “As it is a working cargo wharf there is no intention to place a drinking water facility there. There is potable water available at the construction camp site, as there is with any other residential location on the island.”