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.