The Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) was established by a small group of Australian travel operators to protect their financial interests along the Kokoda Trail in PNG.
The welfare of local PNG porters and villagers is obviously not part of their agenda and their use of fake research to justify their exploitation is contrary to the spirit of Kokoda.
This exploitation includes the overloading of porters; abuse of their welfare; and the claiming of shameful student discounts on trek fees.
The KTOA website advises that ‘Members of the association collectively represent more than 75% of trekker number across Kokoda’.
This is fake information. The KTOA membership represents just 30 percent of the 36 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA). Three of the 11 KTOA members appear to be inactive.
According to KTA records a total of 3267 trekkers crossed the trail in 2017 – 2053 (62%) went with KTOA members.
Overloading of PNG Porters
The most abhorrent practice the KTOA advocates is the overloading of porters by its members and their use of fake research to justify it.
In September 2017 a PNG porter engaged by a member of the KTOA died on the trail – according to the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) Ranger at Owers Corner he was overloaded with a 28 kg backpack. Rather than addressing the problem the KTOA accused the KTA Ranger of altering his records without providing any evidence to support their claim. A preliminary investigation by PNG Police Sergeant, Max Maso contradicts their claim:
‘It is evident that the group on this particular trip . . . engaged by . . . (KTOA tour operator) . . . were all overloaded in breach to Code of Conduct stipulated under this code’.
Rather than accepting that there is a problem with the overloading of porters the KTOA went into damage control after Adventure Kokoda advised that the maximum weight allowed for the PNG wartime carriers in 1942 was 18 kg.
On 26 February 2018 the KTOA posted an irrational response to this fact on Facebook:
‘Any operator[i] continuing to use references to conditions and weights carried by carriers on the Kokoda Track in 1942 is still living in the dark colonial days long past. Clearly the welfare of the carriers of the Kokoda campaign was not of primary concern of their colonial masters.
‘Suggestions made recently that the carriers during the war were restricted to carrying 18kgs is a gross misrepresentation of the brutal conditions in which the carriers worked.’
The reference KTOA quoted to justify their exploitation of PNG porters was an unofficial essay written by a junior summer vacation student at the Australian War Memorial!![ii].
The facts are anything but a ‘gross misrepresentation of the brutal conditions in which the carriers worked’ as stated by the KTOA. (more…)
Over the past three years 10,000 trekkers have crossed the Kokoda Trail – an average of 3,333 per year. These trekkers would each invest around $5 000 on airfares, accommodation, meals, clothing, camping gear and on-trail expenses in order to complete their trek. These amounts to a total spend of $16.5 million per year. The annual GST dividend between the Australian and PNG governments is therefore in the region of $1.6 million.
The gross income for villagers (the on-trail spend) in 2015 is estimated to be:
- $600 000 in trek fees;
- $250 000 in campsite fees;
- $1.75 million in wages for guides and personal carriers;
- $1.3 million in income for village fruit, vegetables, sing-sings, billum bags, carved trekking poles;
- $500 000 in donated goods (boots, trekker clothing and gear based on an average of K300 per trekker). This is a ‘hidden benefit’ of the trekking industry as the greater majority of trekkers donate gear to their guides and carriers.
There is scope for this income to be significantly increased through the introduction of a community development levy; a significant site fee; a campsite audit system; a peak season trek operators’ license; training of villagers in the provision of goods and services for trekkers; and the provision of a business manager and chief ranger for the management authority.
The figures indicate that the Kokoda trekking industry is now financially sustainable.
Government should therefore limit its contribution to infrastructure development i.e. the development of a master plan for the interpretation of the military history of the Kokoda campaign; facilitation for funding of appropriate memorials at significant sites, the maintenance of the road to Owers Corner; the maintenance of airfields at Menari, Efogi, Kagi and Kokoda; and a VHF communications system along the trail.
1. Duty of Care
Because the Kokoda Trail is located in a rugged and remote jungle environment the Australian and PNG Governments have a shared ‘duty of care’ to ensure safety issues relating to connecting roads and airfields are maintained; an effective communications system is operational; and there is an effective management authority in place.
The management authority has a ‘duty of care’ to ensure licensed trek operators have legitimate and adequate Public Liability Insurance policies; VHF radios and satellite phones for emergencies; and leaders with advanced First Aid qualifications. They must also verify that each of their trekkers has a Travel Insurance Policy which provides for emergency evacuation by helicopter from anywhere along the trail.
2. Licensing System
The current lack of due diligence in the licensing process for Kokoda trek operators means that anybody who applies for a license will be issued with one. There have been instances of unlicensed operators simply being issued with a license after they have been reported either because of intimidation or because it is the path of least resistance. There are no checks to verify if the applicant has a registered company; a Public Liability Insurance policy; communications equipment; training in advanced First Aid; or the means to protect the welfare of their guides and carriers.
There is no legislation to support a licensing system so conditions are easily and routinely ignored.
The current system favours opportunistic trek operators who ‘cherry-pick’ peak season periods and do nothing to build their business at other times.
Consideration should therefore be given to imposing a 100 per cent peak season loading on trek permits for trek operators who apply for less than 100 trek permits per trekking season. This will provide them with an incentive to market their treks outside peak periods and therefore spread opportunities for the employment of local guides, carriers and campsite owners to non-peak periods.
Such a loading would increase the income stream for the management authority during these periods.
Campsites should be a unique feature of the Kokoda experience. They should be built from bush material and should contain adequate and hygienic ablution blocks including latrines with privacy screens. They should also contain a kitchen and dining area for individual trek groups, sleeping huts for guides and carriers, a haus drai for both trekkers and guides and a sufficient amount of firewood.
Ideally they should be segregated from villages so they do not impose on their day-to-day routine – particularly the Sabbath. They should not be ‘grouped’ with other sites as individual trek groups develop and cherish their own integrity as part of their Kokoda experience. ‘Grouped’ campsites also increase the size of the scar on the local environment.
There has been no order in the development of campsites along the trail over the past decade. Landowners carved out sites at random then found there was not enough business to sustain them. Many have since been abandoned and are slowly being reclaimed by the jungle.
Campsites should be strategically located to meet the demands of peak trekking periods. There is scope for landowners to operate their sites as micro business enterprises. In addition to standard kitchen/dining huts, guide/carrier accommodation, male/female ablutions blocks and toilets there should be level sites for tents. Tents could be provided by the management authority for each site on a repayment basis. Campsite fees could be increased by $5 per night per trekker. This increment would be withheld by the management authority until the tents were paid for then the landowner would get the full benefit of the increased fee.
Tent would be stored by the landowner and erected when the management authority advised them of the number required and the dates according to their booking system. Campsite fees owing by the trekkers would be pre-paid to the management authority and deposited directly into each landowner’s bank account.
The concept of ‘trekkers huts’ should be discounted. Trekkers prefer to have their own private space after a day’s trekking and the most effective means of achieving this is with individual mosquito proof tents.
This concept would allow for heavier duty tents to be used for trekkers accommodation as they would not have to be carried by each group. It would also leave a smaller footprint on the trail as fewer carriers would be required. The money saved by trek operators as a result of not having to purchase, maintain and store tents would benefit landowners who would receive increased campsite fees.
Such a system would be dependent on an efficient campsite booking system being implemented.
4. Welfare of PNG Guides and Carriers
The neglect of the welfare of PNG guides and carriers needs to be addressed. Many are overloaded, underfed, ill-equipped and poorly paid. How do we know? Because they speak with our guides and carriers on the trail during our treks!
Their welfare has been ignored by management officials for too long. In 2009 the Australian KTA CEO declared that the maximum weight for local carriers would be 25 kg. This is a weight he would not have been capable of carrying as far as the first ridge on the trail!
Our recommendation that the limit be reduced to the 20 kg limit imposed by the Kiaps under the colonial regime has been ignored. It has since been reduced to 22.5 kg but this is still too heavy and will have detrimental long-term impacts on their hips, knees and ankles.
There is considerable scope for an improvement in the working conditions for guides and carriers.
Weight limits are too easily bypassed by rogue operators and should be replaced with a proportionate number of guides per trekker. It should be mandatory for trek operators to establish bank accounts for guides and carriers and to pay them on the day they finish their trek – or place them on full pay until they are paid! Trek guides and carriers should be provided with a trek uniform comprising a cap, shirt, shorts and poncho as well as an individual sleeping bag and mat. Rangers should conduct check-point audits to ensure they are not overloaded and that they are properly clothed, fed, equipped and paid on-time. All they have to do is ask them!
‘My personal carrier, Paul Duri, was an “angel” in every sense of the word – kind, pure and beautiful and a gift from God. When I was sick Paul washed my clothes, he dried my backpack and filled my water bladder and helped me out in many ways over and beyond his job description. I never asked him to do these things he just insisted on helping.’ Deidre McKinnon
Consideration should be given to developing an accreditation system for guides and carriers to enhance their status because they are, without question, PNGs best ambassadors.
The lack of a strategy for training key stakeholders has been the major flaw in the development of the Kokoda trekking industry. KTA Board members were selected as a result of the positions they held in Provincial and Local Level government rather than as a result of their professional qualifications. There was no strategy to develop their understanding of the legal responsibilities of Directors. The executive staff of the KTA were never trained in the basics of management – none had any previous business experience. Campsite owner were never trained how to meet the basic needs of their clientele. Villagers were never trained in the basics of value-adding to the Kokoda trekking industry.
Effective raining requires a long-term commitment at every level of the Kokoda trekking industry if sustainable outcomes are to be achieved.
1. Trek Fees
Trek fees for Kokoda should be sufficient to cover the cost of a functional management organisation.
The current trek fee of $150 per trekker will raise $500 000 per year based on the average number of trekkers over the past three years. This would be more than adequate to cover the cost of the office, staff and rangers necessary for the revised management functions at a more appropriate location such as the former Koiari Holdings property at 14-mile.
The Australian and/or PNG governments should fund three essential positions i.e. a Chief Executive Officer, a Commercial Business Manager and a Field Manager. The remainder of the positions in the management authority should be funded by trek fees.
Community Development and Trail Maintenance levies should be introduced and paid in advance as part of the Online Booking System process.
2. Campsite Fees
The current campsite fee of $10 for trekkers and $2.50 for PNG guides could be increased by 50 per cent for those who meet the standards established by the management authority. This would potentially increase their combined income by up to $125 000 a year. This could be further increased with the establishment and accreditation of a proper campsite booking system.
3. Campsite Audits
There is an urgent need for a ‘Campsite Audit System’ to ensure local landowners receive the full amount due to them. Such an audit has been recommended many times in recent years but has not been implemented. As a result local campsite owners are being effectively short-changed by unscrupulous trek operators. It is relatively easy task for Rangers to gather the details of payments from each trek group at each campsite and report the figures back to the KTA but for some inexplicable reason the KTA will not adopt such a system.
4. Campsite Register
There needs to be a Campsite Register provided to every campsite owner along the Kokoda Trail. The Campsite Register would be photographed by the KTMA Rangers as part of their Campsite Audit process and submitted to the management authority at the end of each calendar month.
The Campsite Register should include:
- Trek No (as per Trek Permit)
- Direction of Trek (Kokoda to Owers or Owers to Kokoda)
- No of Trekkers
- No of Trek Guides/Porters
- Total campsite fees paid
- Total payment for food provided by campsite owner/village
- Trek leaders name
- Trek leaders signature
Operators would be required to pay all guesthouse and campsite fees prior to moving on from that location.
The ultimate objective would be to pay all campsite fees in advance according to respective trek itineraries. These should be deposited into the bank accounts of campsite owners immediate after the trek operator reports that all facilities and services were provided (clean toilets, discreet ablution facilities, dining facilities, haus drai, firewood, accommodation for guides and trekkers, etc.).
1. Community Development Levy
It is not possible to have community development without community consultation and community involvement. The most effective means of achieving this is through the conduct of annual village based workshops with facilitators experienced in local language and culture. This will ensure a continuous review of objectives, partnerships and commitments.
This important area has been ignored by Australian government officials since they assumed control of the industry in 2009 despite much advice to the contrary.
There is a need for an independent philanthropic entity with an empathetic understanding of the needs of local communities along the trail and with proven expertise in the delivery of sustainable community development partnerships.
The organisation would be responsible for:
- fundraising in Australia and PNG;
- the conduct of annual village workshops in the Koiari and Orokaiva areas along the trail to determine local development needs; and
- the co-ordination of community projects in the areas of education, health, agriculture and community learning.
- A Community Development Levy of $50 per trekker, for example, would provide an annual income of $165 000 to directly support village projects along the trail based on the average number of trekkers over the past three years.
The benefits from the levy, combined with targeted fundraising campaigns, would allay many of the concerns of local landowners who currently regard themselves as mere spectators to the Kokoda trekking industry.
Network Kokoda (PNG) has the governance and the capacity to develop, manage and monitor philanthropic community development programs along the trail.
1. Trail Maintenance Levy
There has been considerable environmental degradation of the trail since trekker numbers increased substantially in 2006. There was a flurry of activity after the Australian government assumed control of the trail in 2008. Australian ‘volunteers’ were flown into locations along the trail to do work local villagers had been doing for generations at significant cost to the taxpayer. Very little follow up maintenance has been completed since they left around five years ago.
The resources of trek operators, who have a vested interest in the safety/maintenance of the trail, were ignored in this process.
The solution to the challenge of trail maintenance is relatively simple and could be solved with a ‘trail maintenance levy’ of $50 per trekker. This would generate an income of $165 000 for payment to villagers involved in trek maintenance each year.
The trail could be divided into the following sections:
- Section 1: Owers Corner to Ofi Creek;
- Section 2: Ofi Creek to Menari;
- Section 3: Menari to Kagi;
- Section 4: Kagi to Lake Myola
- Section 5: Lake Myola to Eora Creek
- Section 6: Eora Creek to Isurava Memorial; and
- Section 7: Isurava Memorial to Kokoda
An average of $24 000 would be available for allocation to each section. This could be used to employ local guides and carriers during the off-trekking season and therefore extend their opportunities for employment.
Trek operators could be invited to provide trail reports at the end of each trek to the field manager/chief ranger. They could also report on the standard of work carried out by trail maintenance crews and make recommendations as appropriate.
The following trail maintenance tasks would be included in the annual maintenance plan:
- Build and maintain ‘traditional’ bridges across all creeks and rivers. These could be modelled on the bridge recently been built across Eora Creek. They should be at least one metre wide with handrails on both sides and bound with natural fibres;
- Lay corduroy paths along the Nauro swamp area and other similar sections;
- Maintain steps (golden staircase style) on steep sections of the trail; and
- Cut a couple of parallel tracks (north-south and south-north) where there is serious erosion between the Kokoda Gap and Eora Creek the southern slopes of Imita and Ioribaiwa ridges and the Nauro swamp area – this will allow degraded areas to regenerate. The direction of each parallel track would be controlled by Rangers.
2. Significant Site Levy
There is considerable angst amongst landowners of significant sites along the trail because they are missing out on a large share of benefits from the Kokoda trekking industry due to the lack of any accounting/banking system to support them.
The management authority could assist by collecting the fees in advance and paying them directly into the landowner’s personal bank account. This would require the management authority to identify each significant site and each landowner – then assist each one to establish a bank account.
Significant sites include Owers Corner, Imita Ridge, Ioribaiwa Ridge, Brigade Hill, Lake Myola, Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek, Abuari Waterfall, Isurava battlesite, Deniki and Kokoda. These could also include local museums at Efogi and Isurava to provide them with an incentive to display and maintain weapons, ordnance and gear they have recovered as well as wartime aircraft wrecks.
A $5 Significant Site Levy (the price of a cappuccino in Sydney) would raise $175 000 (i.e. $15 000 for each landowner) based on 2014 trekking numbers.
Significant site landowners would be required to maintain the site in a clean and safe condition.
3. Charity Levy
Australian charities have used the Kokoda Trail to raise significant amounts of funds for various causes. Whilst these are well intentioned there is little evidence of such funding contributing to worthy causes in PNG – even after trek participants witness the needs of villagers along the trail!
One professional charity, the Kokoda Challenge, hijacked the idea of having an annual team endurance event to raise funds for educational and health scholarships and diverted the profits to develop a ‘Camp Kokoda’ on the Gold Coast for Australian youth. The ‘Kokoda Challenge’ has since ‘diverted’ more than $2.5 million from the intended recipients in PNG to young Australians who already have an abundance of support programs in this area. The Kokoda Challenge website details ‘where the money goes’ at http://kokodachallenge.com/where-does-the-money-go
I have attached a speech I made in the NSW Parliament on the background to the Kokoda Challenge as Appendix 2.
A ‘Charity Levy’ of $1,250 per trekker for one-off charitable treks and $2,500 per trekker for professional charities such as the ‘Kokoda Challenge would ensure that villagers along the trail would receive shared benefits from this side industry.
Ancillary Income Earning Opportunities for Villagers
Villagers along the trail are currently denied the opportunity to obtain added value from trek groups because trek operators have never been consulted to see what services their clients would pay for and the villagers have never been trained to meet trekkers needs.
Trek operators were excluded from the initial ‘Village Livelihoods Study’ group in 2009 by the Australian Government. Indeed the study group did not include a trek operator or anybody with PNG business experience yet their purpose was to ‘develop a concept for a pilot-scale rural micro-business scheme along the Track corridor’. This is probably why the project has been such a demonstrable failure.
The following ancillary income opportunities are yet to be realised:
- Owers Corner
This area has the capacity to earn considerable income because it is located on an accessible road from Port Moresby which is experiencing rapid economic growth. This had been negated because of our patronising dealings with local landowners and our lack of historical awareness. As a result the campsite built with AusAID funds has never been used and the area has nothing to attract visitors. The opportunity to develop a traditional village with a coffee shop; an arts and crafts centre; a welcome ‘sing-sing’ area; an audio-visual centre which tells the story of the Kokoda campaign and escorted day treks down to the Goldie River or Imita Ridge is yet to be realised. See paragraph 6 b 2 below.
- Brewed Coffee
PNG coffee is the best in the world. Despite this there is not a single facility along the trail that offers a hot cup of brewed coffee. This is in spite of significant amounts of Aid/NGO funded ‘capacity building’ programs along the trail. If trekkers brought just two cups of coffee a day at K5 each they could increase village ancillary earnings by up to K300 000 per trekking season! If they offered a hot scone or biscuit the income potential would increase by 100 percent.
- Bread Ovens
After a couple of days on the trail trekkers develop a craving for fresh bread and toast. In the early 1990s the campsite at Myola operated an oven which baked bread and heated water for the shower. They served toast with long-life butter and jam in the morning. This was the most anticipated service by trekkers who paid an additional K10. Unfortunately it has not operated for the past 10 years due to a vexatious land dispute, however the demand exists – and trekkers will willingly pay for it. A couple of villages were issued with drum ovens from the KTA in 2007 and NGOs provided cooking classes. Unfortunately they never trained the villagers in basic business principles so when the ‘free’ flour was exhausted they stopped baking bread. Villagers had assumed trek operators would carry in the flour they needed for the bread and they would simply bake it. The NGOs had not consulted with trek operators in regard to this ‘capacity building’ initiative and not a single toea has been realised as a result.
- Trekkers Laundry
One of the onerous tasks for trekkers is the washing and drying of dirty/sweaty clothing at the end of each day. Most trekkers would gladly pay K10 to have their clothes washed each night, dried in a local hut and delivered back to their tent next morning. Potential earnings of up to K200 000 per trekking season could be realised with this initiative.
- ‘Sing-Sings’ – Re-enactments
Over the past 25 years I have witnessed some spectacular local ‘sing-sings’ and re-enactments of wartime carriers. Trekkers gladly pay up to K20 each for such occasions but the idea of a consistent co-ordinated plan has obviously not been part of any Aid funded ‘capacity building’ programs.
- Village Bilums
Trekkers rarely purchase a bilum along the trail because they are no different to those they see in Port Moresby. Traditional string bags made from twisted bark fibre with the name of the villages and ‘Kokoda Trail screened onto them would fetch a premium price. Most trekkers would purchase at least one and many would take the opportunity to purchase a complete set.
- Hot Showers
Trekkers gladly pay K5 for a hot shower at Bombers Campsite. They used to do the same at Lake Myola until it was put out of action by a vexatious land claim that the Australian CEO refused to address at great cost to the local landowners. Campsite owners could easily be assisted in building a hot-shower facility as a means of providing a sought after service for trekkers and earning additional income as a result.
- Warehousing Facilities
There are no logistic support facilities along the trail for trek operators. As a result they are required to charter an aircraft to deliver supplies for the second half of their respective treks. This is an expensive option and subject to the vagaries of aircraft availability and weather. There is an opportunity for a warehouse to be established in either Menari or Efogi villages to store food and equipment on behalf of trek operators who could rent secure storage space. Such a facility could be combined with a village store to service local community needs. Consideration could later be given to the establishment of a Supa V Stoa franchise which would provide villagers with a wider range of grocery and pharmaceutical goods and access to e-banking and Digicel services.
- Recharge Facilities
Generators or solar panels with battery storage and inverters should be considered an essential item for delivering shared benefits for villagers along the trail. They also present an opportunity for obtaining additional income as trekkers invariably have a need to recharge batteries for cameras, satellite phones and VHF radios. They would be more than willing to pay for such a service.
- Kokoda Plateau
The Kokoda plateau has great potential as a major wartime tourism hub because of its airfield and its proximity to the Isurava memorial. The plateau lends itself to the establishment of a Military Historical Precinct and an Orokaiva Cultural Centre The proclamation of ‘Kokoda Day’ by the PNG Government on 3rd November would provide a focus for a national marketing campaign and become a source of national pride throughout the country.
The above initiatives provide an excellent opportunity for additional income but none are available at the present time so trekkers return home with unspent money. The foregone ancillary earning opportunities for local villagers indicates that trek operators and trekkers who have to put their hands in their own pockets are more aware of the opportunities to generate additional for income for villagers than Government Aid/NGO bodies that exist by putting their hands in the taxpayers pocket with no personal accountability for success or failure.
Need for Reform
There is now an urgent need for the Kokoda trekking industry to be rationalised and managed as a commercial enterprise with a clear division of responsibility between:
- Government which should provide infrastructure support (road to Owers Corner; airfields at Menari, Efogi, Kagi, Kokoda; VHF communications; and interpretative memorials);
- a management authority to provide operational management of the trekking industry; and
- a philanthropic entity to manage community development along the trail.
The Board of Directors should include a representative from the Office of Tourism Arts and Culture; the Oro and Provincial Governments; and professionals with expertise in business, law, accounting and military history.
An Advisory Council should include representatives from the Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Governments, Ward Chairmen from each sector along the trail; the Port Moresby RSL; and a trek operator’s representative.
The operational management structure should comprise the following functions:
- Offices management to operate the website, database and online booking system and routine office functions to support the administration of the authority.
- Financial management responsible for all financial transactions and the provision of financial reports to the CEO and the Board of Directors.
- Field management to protect the wartime historical and environmental values of the Kokoda Trail and manage rangers, liaise with landowners, manage checkpoints, conduct campsite audits and supervise track safety/maintenance.
- Community Development responsible for the conduct of village workshops; the development of an integrated community development strategy; community development partnerships; and liaison with Government aid agencies and philanthropic organisations.
The management system should be supported by legislation and a licensing system which reflects local cultural traditions and provides a level playing field for all trek or tour operators. It should have a professional website linked to a database and an online booking system. The financial management functions should be managed by a commercial business manager who operates at ‘arm’s length’ to avoid intimidation from vested interests.
The rapid increase in trekker numbers from 2004 overwhelmed the management system which has been unable to cope with the diverse range of demands placed on it. A strategy to manage expectations of subsistence villagers in accordance with established principles of integrated community development policies was never implemented. Effective training systems for each component of the trekking industry were never developed.
As a result the economic potential of the emerging trekking industry has not been realised and the welfare of guides, carriers and campsite owners has been ignored. Aid funded initiatives have not been effective due to a lack of coordination/consultation with key stakeholders
The current management system is now beyond dysfunctional. There is an urgent need for a new strategy to be developed and implemented for the Kokoda trekking industry to realise its potential.
The potential of a wartime tourism industry is currently limited by an effective strategy supported by an appropriate organisational structure.
If we procrastinate and allow such sacred land to be lost to other emerging economic opportunities in PNG (mining, forestry, farming) subsequent generations will never forgive us.
If we allow the system to continue as it has over the past decade the only growth industry will be conflict management. But if we use the lessons we have learned since the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign that put ‘Kokoda’ back on the radar we will be only limited by the imagination of current and future generations who seek to walk in their footsteps.
The following Chronology of Facts for the Kokoda Trekking Industry has been compiled by Charlie Lynn and his Adventure Kokoda trek leaders who have a combined total of 130 years professional military experience and who have led 520 expeditions across the Kokoda Trail over the past 27 years.
The financial figures quoted are estimates because neither the Australian Government nor the PNG management authority they put in place publish annual reports.
According to records publicly available 5621 trekkers crossed the Kokoda Trail in 2008 – generating approximately $20 million into the PNG economy. Since the Australian Government assumed control of the Kokoda trekking industry in 2009 trekker numbers have dropped by 42 per cent to 3267 in 2017 – this has resulted in a decline of more than $10 million in annual income for tourism in PNG.
Chronology of Facts:
• Up until 2001 approximately 70 trekkers crossed the Kokoda Trail each year. The combined income of the 10 villages along the trail was estimated to be $30,000 per year.
• Interest in the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Kokoda campaign saw trekker numbers increase dramatically from 76 in 2001 to a peak of 5621 in 2008.
• In 2003 the PNG Government established the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) as a statutory government body of the Kokoda and Koiari Rural Local-level Governments to manage the emerging trekking industry and to ensure villages along the trail received a share of the benefits from it.
• In 2006 a proposal to mine the southern section of the trail resulted in an Australian Government offer to assist the PNG Government develop a case for a World Heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.
• In 2008 the Australian Department of Environment was allocated responsibility for the assistance package because of its responsibility for our register of overseas heritage sites. A Joint Understanding covering ‘the sustainable development of communities along the Kokoda Track corridor, and protection and sustainable use of natural and cultural resources of the broader Owen Stanley region’ was signed by both governments.
• Military heritage is not a consideration for a World Heritage listing so it did not rate a mention in the Joint Understanding which noted that ‘The Owen Stanley Ranges are one of PNG’s major carbon stores and will be assessed along with other locations as potential sites for demonstration Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) activities within the Papua New Guinea-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership’.
• Responsibility for our iconic World War 1 site (Gallipoli) and our iconic World War 11 site (the Kokoda Trail) was split between two departments, Veterans Affairs and Environment.
• Department of Environment managers and advisors were dispatched to PNG and assumed control of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA). They were followed by a plethora of consultants to advise Canberra on management, cultural and environmental issues along the trail. Numerous stakeholder forums were conducted in Australia and PNG. For reasons known only to Canberra there were no workshops/forums conducted in villages along the trail to get the input of landowners and local communities. Advice provided by trek operators who had been operating along the trail for a decade before their arrival was ignored.
• Responsibility for development along the Kokoda Trail was split between AusAID which initiated a Kokoda Development Program and the Department of Environment which initiated a Kokoda Initiative. Both programs were focused on Kokoda but there was little evidence to show the left hand knew what the right hand was doing as they were responsible to different masters in Canberra. The only common trait they shared was that neither organisation consulted with local villagers or experienced trek operators. In 2014 both programs were amalgamated within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Minister for International Aid and the Pacific.
• Department of Environment officials in Canberra extended the definition of the Kokoda Trail to the ‘Kokoda Track Corridor’ and later to the ‘Kokoda Track Region’ which then included areas further afield such as Sirinumu Dam and the beach-heads of Buna and Gona. This subtle rebadging provided a smorgasbord of opportunity for Canberra based academics and consultants.
• A Strategic Plan developed by the Department of Environment managers for the period 2012 – 2015 contained 5 strategies and 33 objectives. The plan was developed without consultation with experienced Kokoda trek operators. As of 2015 not one of the five strategies or one of the 33 objectives had been achieved! No follow-up plan has since been developed since then.
• In 2009 a $1.5 million Village Livelihoods Project, conceived in Canberra without any consultation with the PNG Department of Community Development or experienced trek operator’s, was developed to assist local villagers to earn additional income from trekkers. As of 2017 the program has not generated a single dollar in additional income nor has it produced a single vegetable from a local garden across the trail. The program had now changed its focus to ‘capacity building’, ‘mentoring’ and ‘gender equity’ where outcomes are impossible to assess.
• Australian Department of Environment management staff did not develop any legislation to support trek operator licensing standards. They did not incorporate any local landowner groups. They did not develop any dispute resolution mechanisms. They do not conduct any due diligence checks on trek operators. They have no enforcement provisions for breaches of their own Code of Conduct.
• In 2017, 43 licensed trek operators led a total of 500 trekkers across the Kokoda Trail – an average of 12 trekkers per year per operator. The cost of Public Liability Insurance for these operators would amount to more than their gross income each year – so they don’t have any. Nor to do they have any essential emergency communications or medical equipment. This represents a serious breach of the duty of care by both the Australian and PNG Governments.
• Not a single management protocol has been put in place to manage the trekking industry. There is no trek itinerary management. It is not possible to book campsites. There is no protection for the welfare of local guides and carriers. There is no audit of campsites to ensure owners are receiving the full amount owing from trek operators. There are no hygiene standards for campsite toilets. There is no training system for potential service providers in villages along the trail. Etc. Etc.
• In 2017 a PNG porter working for an Australian tour operator died on Ioribaiwa Ridge. According to the KTA Ranger he was seriously overloaded by his tour operator who ignored a request from the Ranger to redistribute the weight they loaded onto him. No investigation has been conducted. No corrective action has been taken.
• Over the past decade 46,000 Australians have trekked Kokoda including some of our most wealthy and influential people. Many would be willing to make a contribution to assisting villagers in the areas of health, education and agriculture. This is not possible because Australian officials responsible for the management of the industry from 2009-2012 did not develop a database so they do not have the contact details of a single trekker. A database is the most basic of all management tools, yet today – after 9 years insitu, and after the expenditure of more than $50 million in aid funding – they still do not have one.
• The 46,000 Australians who have trekked Kokoda over the past decade have generated more than $250 million for airlines, hotels, transport, supermarkets, camping stores, employment of guides and carriers, campsite owners, local villagers and the provision of services to paying clients i.e. trekkers. In addition to this:
• Approximately $26 million has washed through village economies in the form of wages, campsite fees and local services.
• Donations of trekkers personal clothing, boots, medical and educational supplies and camping gear would be in the region of $5 million.
• Kokoda trek operators have paid more than $5 million in trek fees to the management authority over the past decade. The fees were originally intended to help fund the management of the industry and to ensure villages along the trail received shared benefits. Unfortunately the money now received in trek fees tends to circulate in Port Moresby. There does not appear to have been any distribution to village communities over the past three years.
• It is highly probable that the Australian and PNG governments have received more in GST income than they have invested in the Kokoda Trail.
• Trekker numbers increased rapidly from 76 in 2001 to a peak of 5621 in 2008 when the industry was managed as a Kokoda Track Special Purpose Authority (KTA) by the PNG Government. Since the Australian Government assumed control for the management of the industry trekker numbers have crashed from 5621 in 2008 to 3267 in 2017 – a massive 42 percent drop! This is due to the fact that the industry has been run as a government bureaucracy rather than as a commercial enterprise.
• The ‘Ranger System’ put in place by the Australian management is dysfunctional because the villagers selected were not qualified; were inexperienced; and never received any training. As a result sections of the trail are now dangerously unsafe; all bridges had collapsed as at the end of 2016; environmental degradation of sections of the trail continues unabated; and significant heritage sites continue to be desecrated.
• Not one representative from the KTA, the Kokoda Initiative or the Conservation Environment Protection Authority trekked across the Kokoda Trail to meet with village communities in 2016. If they had they would have learned that no medical supplies have been distributed to any of the health centres along the trail and no school supplies reached any of the schools that year. They would also have noticed the environmental degradation, the collapsed bridges and the fact that there is not a single toilet along the trail that meets the most basic hygiene standards for the paying customer i.e. trekkers.
• In late 2015 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) assumed responsibility for the Kokoda Trail and the Kokoda Initiative. A new Ministry for International Aid and the Pacific was created but nothing else has changed – same horse with a new jockey.
• In 2017 two senior staff members from the Australian High Commission trekked across the trail and reported that everything was OK. Those who trek throughout the year could only wonder what planet they trekked on or what sort of plants they were chewing.
• The Kokoda Trail, which many regard as our most important icon of the War in the Pacific, does not feature as a priority with the Australian Government. After 9 years in situ, a plethora of consultants’ reports and more than $50 million in taxpayer funding there has been no action taken to develop a master plan for the protection and interpretation of the wartime heritage of the Kokoda Trail.
The failure of the Department of Environment/DFAT management system is evident in the fact that trekker numbers have declined by 42 per cent since they assumed control in 2009. This is attributable to the fact that the Kokoda trekking industry has been managed as a government bureaucracy rather than on a commercial basis.
The wartime heritage of the Kokoda Trail has been ignored by both the Department of Environment and DFAT who have failed to develop a master plan to protect and interpret the military history of the Kokoda campaign.
1. the Kokoda Trail should be removed from the Joint Understanding for the development of a World Heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges;
2. the Department of Veterans Affairs be allocated responsibility for Kokoda Trail;
3. the Department of Environment/DFAT retain responsibility for the Joint Understanding relating to the development of a case for a World Heritage Listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges;
4. the ‘Kokoda Initiative’ be rebadged as the ‘Owen Stanley Initiative’; and
5. assistance be provided to PNG Tourism to manage the Kokoda trekking industry on a commercial basis with local village communities as shareholders in the management company.
What do you think?
Please let me know your thoughts so that I can pass them onto the Minister.