A secret Australian plan to manage PNGs most post popular tourism destination by environment bureaucrats rather than tourism professionals is a suicide note for Kokoda tourism.

The growth in Kokoda tourism expanded rapidly after the PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) was established in 2004.

Since then, more than 54,000 Australians have trekked across the Trail and generated around $300 million for airlines, hotels, transport, supermarkets, camping stores, employment of guides, campsite owners and villages.

Around $30 million has washed through village communities in the form of wages, campsite fees and local services – this is significant because between 1942 and 1992 they earned zero, zilch, nothing!

Kokoda tour operators have paid more than $5 million in trek fees to the KTA.

Charitable donations of trekkers personal clothing, boots, medical and school supplies along with camping gear would amount to a further few million in benefits.

A threat to establish a $5 billion goldmine on the southern slopes of the Trail in 1996 saw Australian environment officials assume responsibility for the management of the Kokoda Trail in a bid to establish a World Heritage listing for the area to protect it from any future mining or logging incursions.

The fact that it would consign villagers to a lifetime of subsistence living and aid-dependency seemed to escape their zeal to ‘save’ it.

‘Their focus on socio-environment issues led to the neglect of the management system which soon collapsed under their watch.

This led to a 46 percent reduction in trekker numbers and a cumulative loss of around $19 million in foregone wages, campsite fees and local purchases for village economies – and these were the people they were supposed to help!

Unfortunately, their work has been to no avail as an expert report by the late Dr Peter Hitchcock revealed the Kokoda Trail does not meet the requirements for a World Heritage listing.

Australian environment officials have since scrambled to extend the 10-hectare area of the Kokoda Trail to a massive 238,000 hectare ‘protected area’ – to protect their own aid-funded careers.

They plan to legitimize their authority, and their careers, by sneaking a bill into the PNG Parliament to have the Kokoda Trail permanently managed as an environment product by the PNG Conservation Environment Protection Authority known as CEPA.

Their proposed bill has been developed in secret under the cover of Covid without any consultation with traditional owners of the land, or the tour operators who generate the income for the industry.

If they are successful PNG will become the only country in the world to have their most popular tourism destination managed by environment officials rather than tourism professionals.

Their proposed bill strips traditional owners of their rights by excluding them from membership of the Board of Directors which would have jurisdiction over their land! Ex-Service organisations have also been excluded.

If they are successful in sneaking the Bill through the PNG Parliament, future environment regulations will inevitably lead to ‘green-tape‘ restrictions regarding the number of trekkers allowed across the Trail each year, the size of trek groups, and restricted access to ‘environmentally sensitive areas’ across the Trail. This will provide a warm inner glow in Canberra but will consign subsistence villagers across the Trail to a lifetime of aid-dependency.

The wartime heritage of the Kokoda Trail, which is the reason for its popularity, has been ignored since Australia took control of it in 2008 under the guise of a ‘Joint’ Agreement drafted and funded by Canberra. Since then their officials have failed to engage an accredited architect to develop a Military Heritage Master Plan; failed to invest in the restoration of any significant battlesites across the Trail to enhance the value of the pilgrimage for trekkers; failed to introduce any micro-business initiatives to assist villagers to earn additional income; turned a blind eye to the proliferation of illegal Australian tour companies; and failed to implement a single management system to ensure proper governance of the Kokoda tourism industry.

And to rub salt into the wounds they engaged an American anthropologist as Australia’s National Military Heritage Advisor in PNG through a recruitment process that could best be described as shonky.

PNG Prime Minister, The Hon James Marape MP, has a stated policy to reclaim ownership of PNG from foreign interests for the benefit of his people – a review of the following links would indicate that reclaiming ownership of the Kokoda Trail from Australia would be a good place to start:

Charlie Lynn at Bomana War Cemetery