The Kokoda Trail, once the domain of military enthusiasts, began to attract eco-tour opportunists as trekker numbers began to increase after the 60th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 2002.

Some, who were experienced adventure and cultural tour operators in 3rd World countries, brought positive benefits to PNG and contributed to the steady growth of Kokoda tourism.

Others, such as former boxer, Mick O’Malley, reinvented themselves as Kokoda experts to cash in on the opportunities it presented.

O’Malley who runs a gym in Victoria, has never served in the army, has no prior links with veterans’ organizations or any previous association with PNG. However, he has applied the guile he used in the boxing ring to emerge as the key powerbroker in Kokoda tourism.

He has also been able to exploit the lack of a moral-legal arbiter in PNG where corruption has permeated all levels of society. Kokoda tour operators are therefore reliant on their own moral compass in conducting business where corruption is rife and enforcement is weak

Australian Kokoda Tours

According to the Australian Kokoda Tours website O’Malley operates ‘a family-owned business, having run treks over Kokoda since 2006’ where he self-describes himself as ‘a keen student of the Kokoda campaign’. It goes on to say:

‘Mick’s passion for Kokoda is evident by the testimonials given and also being elected the inaugural secretary of the Kokoda Tours Operator’s Association to which he is now been the president for the past 5 years. Mick is extremely keen to share his passion and knowledge for the people, culture and the amazing story of Kokoda’.

However, according to PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) records, Mick is not as keen to comply with his legal obligations regarding the conduct of a legitimate business in PNG!

A few years after he started his operation the Post-Courier newspaper reported that non-compliance of the IPA Act by Australian Kokoda tour operators was estimated to cost PNG K100 million in lost taxation revenue:

This did not deter O’Malley who continued to slip around the provisions of the Act with impunity for seven (7) years from 2006 until he was finally shamed into registering a Business Name on 22 August 2013.

Since then, he has failed to lodge Annual Returns in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2022 and has therefore continued to avoid his taxation obligations in PNG.

O’Malley was well aware of the need to comply with the IPA Act as it has been raised in numerous Kokoda tour operator forums and newsletters over the years – however it seems he was also aware of the lack of enforcement for such obligations in PNG.

Despite these clear directions and discussions O’Malley chose to treat the legal requirements of the IPA Act with contempt and has therefore saved up to PNG K120,000 (A$48,600) in annual compliance fees alone.

O’Malley has proved to be just as adroit in ducking and weaving around his responsibilities with PNG and the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) as he was in the ring during his boxing career.

Section 2.2 of the KTA Commercial Operations License Conditions 2012 states:

‘a copy of Papua New Guinea company registration or contract engaging a Papua New Guinea registered company proving your adherence to Papua New Guinea legal Requirements.’

O’Malley slipped around this requirement by claiming to operate through a PNG company, Operations Kokoda Expeditions,

A search of IPA records reveals it is only a Business Name owned by his PNG ‘Operations Manager’, Mr. Eruel Sinisi, and used as a front for Australian Kokoda Tours to avoid proper compliance.

Mr. Sinisi’s Business Name had been cancelled in 2011, 2015 and 2019 due to a lack of compliance – it was re-registered on 5 May 2022.

Compliance Audit

A random compliance audit by IPA officials on 21 March 2022 revealed Australian Kokoda Tours ‘Has been operating as a BN since 2013. Never applied for FEC until recently, on 24 Feb 2022. Advise to register a company and that company to apply for FEC and maximum penalty should apply.’

O’Malley seems to have been forewarned of the audit and, with the apparent assistance of the Acting KTA CEO, Mr. Julius Wargari, was able to slip around the legal process for obtaining a Foreign Enterprise Certification with a virtual ‘over the counter’ transaction at the IPA office on 24 February 2022. This was despite the fact that Australian Kokoda Tours was not registered as an Overseas Company; did not have a contract with a registered PNG company as required by the IPA Act; and was operating in breach of the KTA ‘Commercial Operations Licence Conditions 2012 which required them to comply with the IPA Act.

According to the approval process published in the IPA Information Guide for Foreign Enterprise Certification:

‘The Authority is required to make a decision on a complete and correct application within 35 working days. The application, if complete and correct, must ­first be considered at a Management Certification Committee, which are held every two weeks. After consideration, the Management makes appropriate recommendations on each application to the Board for approval. Board Members must then endorse the recommendations. Upon board approval, a formal IPA Certificate will be issued displaying the name of the foreign Enterprise, the nature of business activity, the principle location of business, other terms and conditions of Certification.’

IPA Terms and Conditions

It is not known how O’Malley was able to slip around the IPA Terms and Conditions in a virtual ‘over the counter’ deal which normally requires:

  • A deposit of K100,000 in a PNG account;
  • A copy of his Tax Identification Number (TIN) from the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC);
  • A copy of his Employment Visa(s) issued by the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Services Authority;
  • A copy of his Work Permit(s) from the from the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations;
  • A budget/Cah flow forecast;
  • A Comprehensive Business Plan;
  • Details of positions and nationalities of staff to be employed;
  • Value of capital investment; and
  • Copies of any agreements such as Lease Agreements, Purchase Agreements, etc.

O’Malley was not required to identify the Directors of a company in PNG, or any shareholder or employee details for a company – because he didn’t have one at the time!

His Foreign Enterprise certification for his Business Name simply stated that it was ‘Yet to Identify’, and as of 1 February 2023 it was listed as still ‘Not yet identified’.

He was also able to obtain a 50% percent discount on the requirement to deposit PNGK100,000 into his PNG bank account.

O’Malley’s ‘over the counter’ deal differed from Adventure Kokoda who engaged LLLS Lawyers in Port Moresby to ensure legal compliance in obtaining Foreign Enterprise Certification and to establishing a PNG company (Adventure Kokoda (PNG) Ltd-1:118228) in accordance with their IPA Act.

Adventure Kokoda was required to provide proof of their previous agreement their PNG logistics provider, Sogeri Enterprises Pty Ltd, from 2002-2019 along with details of their operating location before the certification was approved. The process took three (3) months after the company lodged the required amount of K100,000.

The process which allowed Australian Kokoda Tours to obtain Foreign Enterprise Certification at a reduced rate of K50,000 without a registered PNG company as required by the IPA Act has all the hallmarks of a slippery deal facilitated between Mick O’Malley, Julius Wargari, and whoever processed the application ‘across the counter’ at the IPA office!

This could be the reason why some of the locals in PNG now refer to him as ‘Slippery Mick’.

Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA)

Mick O’Malley is President of the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) – a small group of influential eco-tour companies established to shamelessly protect their business model which is based on minimising costs at the expense of the guides and porters they engage in PNG.

Two key members of the KTOA have previously been exposed on the following links:

  1. David Howell – Kokoda Historical
  2. Wayne Wetherall – Kokoda Spirit

Their influence is evident in the fact that, according to IPA records, neither Howell, Wetherall, nor O’Malley have paid any tax on the millions of dollars they have generated from their business operations across the Kokoda Trail in PNG since 2004.

The Kokoda Track Authority (KTA)

The current CEO of the KTA, Julius Wargirai, was appointed in an Acting Capacity in 2018.

Since that time the management of the Kokoda Trail has spiralled downwards due to the fact that Wargirai had no previous qualifications or experience in commercial business management, pilgrimage tourism, trekking, or military heritage. His only known experience is as a bureaucrat with the PNG Department of Provincial and Local Level Government.

His appointment, which was part of a dodgy recruiting process, provided an opportunity for Mick O’Malley and the KTOA to increase their influence to the extent that Wargari was easily influenced by them due to his own lack of knowledge of Kokoda tourism.

This was evident when the KTOA successfully fought off a unanimous motion by the PNG tour operators they are supposed to represent to have the maximum weight of porters backpacks reduced from 22.5 kg to 18 kg and to provide them with such basic items as sleeping bags and mats. Wargarai was cowed by the KTOA and failed to support the porters he is paid to represent.

O’Malley’s influence is also evident in a review of Wargari’s KTA website and his own blogs.

His company, Australian Kokoda Tours, is the only tour operator featured in photographs on the website, and the only Australian tour operator which Wargarai turns up to greet personally at the Port Moresby airport on arrival, and who travels up to Owers Corner from his office in Port Moresby to personally greet at the finish of their treks.

Mick O’Malley’s influence as a powerbroker over Julius Wargari and the Kokoda Track Authority is evident in the fact that his ‘Business Name’ is the only one of 33 registered Kokoda tour operators to have their photograph on the Home Page of their website which can be viewed on this link.

Acting CEO of the Kokoda Track Authority, Mr. Julius Wargari, greeting a trek group from Mick O’Malley’s Australian Kokoda Tours at the finish of their trek at Owers Corner – almost 50 km from his office in Port Moresby. Mr. Wargirai does not travel to Owers Corner to meet any other Australian trek groups.

Cancellation of Adventure Kokoda Licence

On 26 April 2023 the Minister for Conservation, Environment and Climate Change publicly announced the cancellation of Adventure Kokoda’s tour operator’s licence for an alleged breach in the payment of trek permit fees.

The influence of the KTOA was evident when they were informally advised of the cancellation of the licence by the KTA 30 minutes prior to Adventure Kokoda being formally advised.

This would suggest a degree of collusion between the KTA and KTOA in the lead-up to the announcement.

KTOA members then launched a flurry of defamatory social media posts against Charlie Lynn and attempted to entice his Adventure Kokoda trekkers to transfer across to their members by offering discounts.

Mick O’Malley posted on his Australian Kokoda Tours website:

‘Prospective Kokoda trekkers are advised to choose their providers carefully after Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Environment and Conservation cancelled the license of tour operator ‘Adventure Kokoda’.

Adventure Kokoda immediately lodged an injunction against the Minister’s cancellation.

The PNG National Court later found the Minister’s decision to cancel the licence was unlawful. The court ordered the KTA to restore the licence and awarded costs to Adventure Kokoda.  A copy of their judgement can be read on this link.

Kokoda ‘Bogan Chants’

Many eco-tour operators substitute their lack of knowledge re the historical tactical and strategic aspects of the Kokoda campaign through the use of cult-like ‘bogan-chants’ as a distraction to hype up their trekkers.

1. Click here for the Mick O’Malley Daily Bogan Chant!

2. Click here for the Mick O’Malley Reveille Chant!

3. Click here for the Mick O’Malley Random Trek Chant!

2. The values of a professional Kokoda Pilgrimage . . .

‘Operations Kokoda Expeditions’ is displayed on Mr. Julius Wargirai’s KTA website as a ‘Licensed Kokoda Tour Operator’ which creates the impression that Mick O’Malley has a PNG company – a check of IPA records reveals that no such company exists!

This is the first recorded ‘Business Name’ registered by Mick O’Malley on 22 August 2013 – until then he had operated illegally in PNG for the previous seven (7) years from 2006.

According to the PNG IPA Act, owners of ‘Business Names’ are required to be submit Annual Returns. According to this IPA record Mick O’Malley failed to meet this requirement in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2020, and 2022.

This ‘Foreign Certificate’ issued by the KTA has all the hallmarks of a dodgy ‘over the counter deal’ with an IPA official.

The Certificate is not complete as the status is ‘Not Yet Updated‘; there is no ‘Registered Address‘; no ‘Telephone Number‘; and no details of ‘Directors’.

According to the IPA a foreign company has two (2) options when registering with the Business Registration & Regulation Division.

They must first register uner the Companies Act 1997 then they can either:

1. Incorporate a new company in PNG, or if they are incorporated (registered) under the laws of another country (overseas): or
2, they can register as an Overseas Company under the Companies Act 1997

O’Malley seems to have avoided both these provisions as he was only registered as a ‘Business Name’ on 24 February 2013 and had since failed to submit Annual Returns as required by the IPA Act.

The IPA also advises:
‘It is an offence under Section 41 of the Act for a foreign enterprise to operate without an IPA certificate, carry on business in a Reserved activity, or fail to comply with a Term or Condition of Certificate as issued. A penalty of up to K100,000.00 may be imposed or a default penalty not exceeding K10 000.00.’

O’Malley also seemed to have danced around this requiremewnt as there is reference to a ‘IPA requested penalty fee of 4000’ which is K96,000 less than the Act provides for. There is also no evidence that the ‘Requested penalty fee’ was ever paid.

The process for the Foreign Enterprise Certificate he was issued with ‘over the counter on 24 February 2022 took just 13 days to approve. This seems to be well outside the following IPA guidelines which state:

‘The Authority is required to make a decision on a complete and correct application within 35 working days. The application, if complete and correct, must ­first be considered at a Management Certification Committee, which are held every two weeks. After consideration, the Management makes appropriate recommendations on each application to the Board for approval. Board Members must then endorse the recommendations. Upon board approval, a formal IPA Certificate will be issued displaying the name of the foreign Enterprise, the nature of business activity, the principle location of business, other terms and conditions of Certification.’

The same process using a legitimate legal firm took Adventure Kokoda three (3) months to achieve – and that was with a legitimate PNG company as opposed to a non-compliant ‘Business Name’.

This is probably why some of the locals in PNG refer to O’Malley as ‘Slippery Mick’!

In early 2023 the IPA upgraded their website and advised all companies, business names and foreign enterprises to confirm their status on numerous occassions.

Mick O’Malley ignored the requests and his Business Name for Australian Kokoda Tours lapsed on 31 August 2023.

The current IPA Registration for the Business Name ‘Australian Kokoda Tours’ identifies its Business Activity as ‘Extra Territorial Organization and Bodies’. This is defined as:

990 9900 Extra-territorial organizations and bodies The activities if international organizations such as the United Nations and its specialized agencies, regional bodies, for example
UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP etc. The organization of American States,
the Council for Mutual Economic Co-operation and Development,
the Organization of African Unity, the League of Arab States, the Customs Co-operation Council, the Organization of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank. Also includes donor agencies like Ausaid andnEuropean Union.

This does not align with the Foreign Enterprise Certification for Australian Kokoda Tours which is defined as ‘Activities on Travel Agencies and Tour Operators, Tourists Assistance Activities.’

The Rise, Fall and Future of Kokoda Tourism

The current management structure of the Kokoda Trail is a dog’s breakfast with overlapping responsibilities between the Minister for Provincial and Local Government Affair; the Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change; the Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture; and the Australian funded, Kokoda Initiative.

Under this arrangement trekker numbers have fallen by 46 percent and the management of Kokoda touris is w beyond dysfunctional due to the emphasis on socio-environmental issues by the DFAT-Kokoda Initiative.

Despite this the Kokoda Trail has emerged as PNGs most popular tourism destination and should now be managed as a tourism enterprise to enable it to achieve its potential as a world-class pilgrimage tourism destination for the economic benefit of the traditional owners of the land sacred to our shared military heritage.

This will require the PNG Government to reclaim ownership of their Trail from the DFAT-Kokoda Initiative and transfer responsibilty for its future management from the PNG Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) to the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA).

This will allow them to reign in the likes of Mick O’Malley, David Howell and Wayne Wetherall to ensure all Australian Kokoda tour operators comply with the PNG IPA Act and meet their taxation responsibilities with the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC).

A paper on The Rise, Fall and Future of Kokoda Tourism can be vewed on this link.