Dear Sue,

Your comments regarding a person you did not have the courage to name at the KTA Trek Operators Forum in Port Moresby have been forwarded to me,

I believe you addressed the forum in your capacity as President of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) which was established to look after the interests of a small but vocal group of Australian based eco-tour operators.

According to the minutes of the forum you stated – some said it was more of a shriek – but I can’t comment because I wasn’t present

‘It is time to call out those who would choose to damage and destroy the industry for whatever warped vested interests they have – who would know. We have talked about some of the claims and accusations that have been made earlier; it is interesting to note that are rarely if ever, are they made in person, but through others or from the safety of sitting behind a computer and ranting through social media. It does appear to confirm the adage that bullies are always cowards.

‘It would be easy to dismiss the negative comments and accusations thrown around as the bitter ramblings of someone, struggling with their declining relevance.  However, that would be to ignore the damage and destruction being caused to our businesses, our industry and the country we love.’

This is an unfair smear against the 22 trek operators licensed by the PNG Kokoda Track Authority who do not belong to your small association which has just 8 active members.

As you know I put my name to everything I publish. In 2015 I was inducted as on Officer of Logohu in the PNG New Year’ Honours List ‘for service to the bilateral relations between Papua New Guinea and Australia and especially in the development of the Kokoda Trail and its honoured place in the history of both nations’ over the past 25 years’. Last year I was awarded a medal for the Order of Australia for my contribution to the NSW Parliament over a 20 year period. I therefore assume that you were not talking about me.

When I funded the establishment of the PNG Kokoda Track (Special Purpose) Authority in 2004 the Minister for Intergovernment Relations, Sir Peter Barter, wrote:

 ‘Without Charlie Lynn’s dedication to the people of the Kokoda Trail, and Papua New Guinea in general, and his assistance in early negotiations in the establishment of the Authority, the establishment of the Kokoda Track Authority and its future plans for assisting the sustainability of the Kokoda Track Tourism Strategy and its heritage, there would be no special purposes authority – it would still be sitting in limbo.’

However I feel I should respond in view of the fact that there might be a remote possibility that I could be wrong.

I acknowledge that some of my blogs have been critical of your association because of the level of exploitation you tolerate in regard to the PNG guides and carriers you engage – and the fake research you use to justify it.

The Kokoda Trekking Industry has come a long way since I first trekked it 28 years ago. In those days the combined annual income of subsistence villagers along the trail was estimated to be $30,000 per year. The surge of public interest in the trail since I found the original battlesites at Brigade Hill and Isurava in 1992 and 1996 has seen it develop into a $15 million industry.

Unfortunately not everybody has shared in the benefits and this has led to a considerable amount of disquiet amongst the subsistence villagers who live along the trail. The dysfunctional management system put in place by Australian environmental officials has robbed them of the opportunity to realise their potential in providing services to the passing parade of trekkers.

But of more concern is the fact that members of your Association can – and do – exploit them so brazenly.

It is inexcusable that your members refuse to issue a sleeping bag, mat and full trek uniform with your company’s logo on each one. It is inexcusable that your members refuse to subscribe to the weight limit of 18 kg which was imposed by the Regimental Medical Officers along the trail in 1942. It is inexcusable that your member’ don’t pay a $100 allowance for your guides and carriers to either pay for an air ticket or walk back to their villages after their treks. It is inexcusable that some of your member engage guides and carriers from off the trail in view of the tragedy that occurred on the Black Cat Track a few years ago.

Such exploitation would not be permissible in Australia and it shouldn’t be tolerated in PNG. Unfortunately a lack of governance in the system established by Australian officials has created significant loopholes which are being shamelessly exploited by members of your association.

I note that you were provided with an opportunity to support a previous shriek against me by the Spectator Magazine in an article titled ‘Battle for Kokoda’ but you neglected to do so.

Your Australian based ‘Kokoda Tour Operators Association’ will have little credibility until you publish an unambiguous statement advising that your members will subscribe to a code that includes the following welfare protection for the guides and carriers they engage:

  • Maximum backpack weight to be carried – 18 kg;
  • Each PNG guide and carrier to be issued with a zippered sleeping bag, a foam sleeping mat and a full trek uniform comprising a cap, t-shirt with company logo and shorts;
  • Each PNG guide and carrier to be paid a minimum of $30 per day; and
  • Each PNG guide and carrier to be paid a ‘Walk Home Allowance’ of $100.

Until then your association will be regarded as a shameless group of blackbirders.