My name is Rod Hillman and I am the current Chief Executive of the Kokoda Track Authority and feel it appropriate for me to say a few things.
1. I respect Charlie Lynn as a leader and for the work he has done both on the Kokoda Track and with his company Adventure Kokoda. I have met with Charlie and some of his tour leaders and believe we have a mutual respect. He has put together a strong and qualified team and whilst we don’t always agree we do talk and discuss issues surrounding the Kokoda Track.
2. The Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) is a Papua New Guinean Special Purpose Authority. It is not Australian, nor should it be. The land belongs to the Papua New Guinean people, in the same way as Gallipoli belongs to the Turkish people and Villers-Bretonneux belongs to the people of France.
3. Australians pride themselves on “being there when a friend needs a hand” and respecting and honouring our soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice. I believe the work the KTA, tour operators, PNG Government and communities along the Track are working together towards this ideal, with significant financial and other support from the Australian Government.
4. The KTA is responsible for collecting the trek permit fees, managing the Track and distributing a proportion of the trek fees to the land owners. As such it is the day to day manager of the Kokoda Track and it is a KTA responsibility to develop systems to improve the trekker experience – whether through campsite bookings, itinerary planning, and accreditation of Tour Operators or developing training programs.
5. KTA’s sole income is from Trekking Permit fees – no government or other ongoing assistance. It is a tight budget and there is a strong desire to put a significant proportion of the trek permit money into the land owners’ hands. It is their land and they should get some return.
6. Although funded by the Australian Government, I work for and take direction from the Papuan New Guinean KTA Management Committee and the PNG Government.
7. Annette Dean, the interim Chief Executive, didn’t quit. She had a short term contract to fill the position whilst I tidied up my affairs in Australia before I could commence.
8. The Australian Government and the Australian people have a strong connection to, and a reverence for, the Kokoda Track. As such a joint understanding between the PNG and Australian Governments has been created to, among other objectives;
• An improved standard of living, quality of life, and access to basic services for communities along the Kokoda Track corridor.
• Improved opportunities for income generation, through the following:
o Sharing benefits from tourism on the Kokoda Track, through better distribution of trekking fees and development of local income generation opportunities (business and employment)
o Improved access to markets (transport) for other income generation opportunities
• The preservation of social and cultural values of the World War II route.
• The impacts of trekking are managed to deliver clear net environmental benefits for the Kokoda Track Communities.
• The World Heritage values of the Kokoda Track and Owen Stanley Ranges are understood and where appropriate, protected.
9. This Joint Understanding is supported through three programs; the KTA, the Kokoda Development Program (health, education, sanitation & water supply) and through support for the PNG Department of Environment. The financial commitment from Australia to the KTA includes;
a. Two funded positions – The Chief Executive and an Operations Manager (both Australians).
b. Funding a Business and Administration Manager (Local contract with KPMG)
c. A proposed cash injection to undertake a range of urgent track maintenance projects
d. The financial commitment is complemented by a range of support in administration and project management from the Canberra Office.
10. The KTA has a Management Committee (Board of Management) consisting of three heads of PNG Government Departments, four representatives of PNG Provincial and Local Level Government and two land owner representatives who provide valuable direction to the KTA management and connection to the PNG Government and local communities.
11. The KTA had serious misappropriation of funds in previous years and these monies have now been recovered, the amounts were approximately $80,000. To prevent this happening again there is a completely new Board of Management, totally new staff and a significant management priority in preparing the policies, procedures and systems to prevent this re-occurring.
This commentary is to reassure the readers that the KTA takes its role very seriously and has a commitment to tour operators, trekkers and the local communities. We are all working towards preserving the memory of those soldiers in 1942, providing an experience for trekkers that is life changing and allows people to appreciate and understand the conditions the soldiers fought in and the sacrifice they made, for trekkers to learn of the people who live on the Track – ancestors of those who provided such unstinting support and to acknowledge and respect their ownership of the land.
I believe Charlie and I have similar visions for the future of Kokoda and I will continue to work with him, and all the other tour operators, to achieve these goals. Most of you have trekked with him or been involved in his life in some way. In many ways Charlie represents values that have, sadly, left mainstream Australia. His spirit of the larrikin, the total and unreserved trust of mateship and his strength of character is often harder to find than I once knew. The Kokoda Track needs people like Charlie (and his team) with their passion, commitment and knowledge.
Please judge the KTA on what it does in the future and not on what it used to do. If in a year there is the same mistrust and concerns then I would have failed and I will be brought to account accordingly.
Kokoda Track Authority