‘Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte’ wrote Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, in 1657. ‘I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter’ is the English translation

Pascal was trying to explain that his letter was longer than it needed to be, because he hadn’t worked out the correct answer.

The Kokoda Tour Operators Association used a similar approach in their latest 620 word diatribe to justify the ongoing exploitation of local PNG porters they engage.

Buried amongst a plethora of motherhood statements is the admission that they will continue to exploit their porters by overloading them.

What part of the fact that a 22.5 kg backpack is too heavy for porters to have to lug across difficult, muddy, mountainous terrain doesn’t the KTOA get?

The weight of 22.5 kg was imposed by an Australian bureaucrat under pressure from Australian trek operators who wanted to minimise their costs by having to employ fewer porters. The bureaucrat who made the decision had never trekked Kokoda and would have had difficulty lifting his 22.5 kg case onto aircraft luggage scales at any check-In counter.

The KTOA has a long history of lobbying – some would say bullying – the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA).

At a PNG Tour Operators Forum in Port Moresby on 8 November 2017, sixty-three (63) PNG delegates representing Provincial and Local Level Government, landowners, trek operators and porters voted unanimously to reduce the maximum weight to 18 kg.

Three (3) KTA management officials, the CEO, the Operations Officer and the President of the PNG Guides and Porters Association were tasked with presenting the motion to the Australian Tour Operators Forum in Brisbane the following week.

For reasons known only to the KTA team the CEO did not table the motion and the President of the Guides and Porters Association went missing. The Minutes of the forum have never been produced despite numerous requests.

This has all the hallmarks of a cover-up and begs the following questions:

  • Why were the Minutes not tabled nor discussed at the Cairns Forum?
  • Why did the representative of the Porters and Guides Association absent himself from the meeting?
  • Was the motion discussed ‘out of session’ between KTA officials and the Kokoda Tour Operators Association KTOA)? and
  • Why have the Minutes of the Cairns Forum never been released?

Whatever the reason the KTOA was able to get away with the abhorrent practice of overloading their porters for another year despite the fact that one of their porters, who was allegedly overloaded, had died on the trail. According to a preliminary investigation by the Sogeri Police Sergeant, Max Maso: ‘It is evident that the group on this particular trip . . . engaged by . . . (KTOA tour operator) . . . were all overloaded in breach of the Code of Conduct stipulated under this code’.

Over the past year the KTOA has used fake research and dubious comparisons to justify the overloading of their porters in spite of the fact that the maximum weight allowable by both military and civilian authorities on the Kokoda Trail in 1942 was 18 kg.

They have been assisted by the fact that the current management structure put in place by the Australian Government from 2009 – 2012 has collapsed. The system is currently under under administration while a review, ordered by the PNG Prime Minister, is carried out.

Until then local PNG guides and porters will continue to be exploited by KTOA members until a mandated code of practice, with specific minimum standards, is put in place by the management authority – or until the KTOA accepts that the welfare of guides and porters should be in accordance with standards established during the Kokoda campaign in 1942.