Fewer than 100 Australians trekked Kokoda prior to 1992 – no income was generated for local subsistence villagers.

5621 Australians trekked Kokoda – generating approximately $3 million (K7.8 million) directly into village economies (wages, campsite fees, village purchases).

DFAT-Environment assumed control of the Kokoda Trail via a ‘Kokoda Initiative’.

Trekker numbers have since declined by 46% which has resulted in a cumulative loss of $19.7 million for village communities in the form of foregone wages, campsite fees and local purchases.

  • In the decades since the war fewer than 100 trekkers crossed the Kokoda Trail each year. The combined annual income of subsistence villages along the trail was estimated to be in the region of K60,000 in the 1990s.
  • Media interest in the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Kokoda campaign saw trekker numbers increase dramatically from 76 in 2001 to a peak of 5,621 in 2008.
  • The PNG Government established the Kokoda Track (Special Purpose) Authority[i] (KTA) as a statutory body for the Kokoda and Koiari Rural Local-level Governments. Their primary role was to manage the emerging trekking industry to ensure villages along the trail received a fair share of benefits from it. Warren Bartlett, a former Kiap living in PNG, was appointed CEO on a salary of $12,500 (PNGK25,000). A part-time assistant was also engaged.
  • A proposal to mine the US$8 billion gold and copper deposit on 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.
  • The Department of Environment and Heritage was reorganised as the Department of Environment and Water Resources.
  • Environment officials and advisors were dispatched to PNG to familiarise themselves with the task of achieving a World Heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.
  • They were followed by a conga-line of consultants to advise Canberra on management, social, cultural, and environment issues along the Trail. Numerous stakeholder forums were conducted in Australia and PNG.
  • For reasons known only to environment officials they did not conduct any workshops/forums with landowner communities in villages along the trail to allow for direct consultation with their communities.  Advice provided by experienced trek operators who had been engaged with villagers for almost two decades before their arrival was ignored.
  • The Department of Environment and Water Resources was reorganised as the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage, and Arts (DEWHA).
  • This created a departmental anomaly with DVA-DFAT being responsible for Australia’s WW1 heritage at Gallipoli and the Western Front, and DEWHA-DFAT being responsible for our WW11 heritage at Kokoda and the Pacific.
  • 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 in Madang on 23 April 2008.
  • 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’.
  • DEWHA1F[i] assumed control of the Kokoda tourism. An Australian official, without any prior experience in PNG, was appointed CEO with a multimillion-dollar aid budget and a 10-fold increase in staff.
  • Responsibility for development along the Kokoda Trail was divided between AusAID, which initiated a ‘Kokoda Development Program’, and DEWHA which initiated a ‘Kokoda Initiative’. Both programs were focused on Kokoda but there was little coordination as they were responsible to different Departments in Canberra. Neither organisation saw fit to consult with local villagers or experienced trek operators – and there was little evidence of them consulting with each other.
  • Soon after a $1.5 million (K3.9 million) ‘Village Livelihoods Project’ conceived by DEWHA, without any consultation with the Department of Community Development in PNG, or the Kokoda Track Authority, was imposed with the aim of assisting local villagers to earn additional income from trekkers. The program failed because it did not include consultation with trek operators who generate the income for Kokoda tourism. No additional income was earned by villagers and no additional crops were produced from local gardens to meet trekkers needs. When the failures became apparent it was quietly shelved.
  • DEWHA officials then 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 on the South Coast and the beach-heads of Buna and Gona on the North Coast. This subtle rebadging provided a smorgasbord of opportunity for Canberra based officials, academics and consultants involved in social mapping, gender equity studies, capacity building, mentoring and social inclusion.
  • DEWHA was rebadged as the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities (DSEWPC). Heritage was removed from their title however the role of environment officials in PNG was not affected.
  • A Strategic Plan2F[i] developed by PNG based DSEWPC officials for the period 2012 – 2015 comprised 5 strategies and 33 objectives. The plan was once again developed without consultation with experienced Kokoda trek operators.

Not one of the 5 strategies or any of the 33 objectives was achieved! No follow-up strategic plan has been developed since then. Nobody was held accountable.

  • DSEWPC transferred responsibility for the management of the trail to the PNG Department of Conservation, Environment and Climate Change without having developed a single management protocol. No legislation had been developed. No local landowner groups had been incorporated. No dispute resolution mechanisms had been put in place. No due diligence systems were introduced for licensing trek operators. No village workshops had been conducted. Not a single campsite was certified. Not a single toilet along the entire trail met the most basic of hygiene standards. No audited financial reports were ever published. No campsite booking system or trek itinerary management systems were introduced.
  • Trekker numbers and income earning opportunities for local village communities declined significantly as a result of these management deficiencies under their watch.
  • DSEWPC was reorganised into the Department of Heritage and Water (DHW) and later as the Department of Environment (DoE) with the election of the Coalition Government.
  • The ‘Kokoda Development Program’ and the ‘Kokoda Initiative’ were amalgamated within DFAT PNG under the watch of the Minister for International Aid and the Pacific. There were no staff changes – environment officials recruited by DEWHA/DSEWPC/DHW continued in their roles in pursuit of a World Heritage listing for the Kokoda Trail without interruption.
  • Australian World Heritage expert, Dr Peter Hitchcock AM exposed the fallacy of achieving a World Heritage Listing3F[i]: ‘Given the on-going threat to heritage values by mining and other development activities, no part of the Kokoda Track and Owen Stanley Ranges Tentative Listed area should be considered for formal nomination as a World Heritage area until such time as an adequate extent of high value areas is formally protected. Given this prerequisite, it may be years before a suitable tract of land is protected and worth considering for World Heritage nomination.’
  • Environment-DFAT produced a ‘Master Plan for the Kokoda Trail’ based on three pillars: The Track – The People – The Environment.4F[ii] ‘Pilgrimage’, which is the core reason Australians pay to trek across it, was excluded from their plan by the Kokoda Initiative.
  • The word mateship’ was replaced with ‘friendship in the official agreement for the Kokoda Trail between Australia and PNG5F[iii].
  • The PNG Government announced a K600 million Edevu Hydro Project on the Brown River6F[i] to meet the future water and power needs for Port Moresby. The project, to be developed by the China Gezhouba Group Corporation and the East Vision Group, was scheduled for completion in 2020.
  • The Edevu Hydro Project has negated the need for a World Heritage listing to protect the Brown River Catchment Area.
  • The PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill ordered a review of the KTA due to the dysfunction of the management systems put in place by DEWHA/DSEWPC/DWH/DoE/DEE officials.
  • The 2019 Annual Report of Environment-DFAT PNG7F[i] focused on issues relating to gender equity, access for people with disabilities, and social inclusion along the trail. There is no mention of the need for a Military Heritage Interpretation Plan or sustainable economic development for local villagers.
  • COVID-19 resulted in the shutdown of the Kokoda trekking industry and the evacuation of Australian officials from PNG.  
  • No financial reserves had been established to support local villagers engaged in the Kokoda trekking industry in the event of an emergency during the period 2009-2019.
  • No financial reports were ever published by the KTA under DEWHAs watch which is in breach of the PNG Investment Promotion Authority Act.
  • No plans were established to provide villagers with interim employment opportunities re the siting and development of campsites and trail maintenance to meet new social distancing and hygiene criteria that will apply post Covid-19.
  • No action was initiated to identify-establish Incorporated Landowner Groups (ILGs) across the trail as a means of transferring ownership of Kokoda tourism to them.
  • The Covid pandemic caused trekking to cease and exposed the flaws of a management system which made no provision for any sort of contingency to assist villager communities.
  • During the period 2004 – 2008, under PNG local management, trekker numbers increased by 255% from 1,584 to 5,621.
  • Under Australian Government administration via DEWHA/DSEWPC (2008-2012) trekker numbers decreased by 36% from 5,621 to 3,597 despite a 10-fold increase in staff and a multimillion-dollar Aid budget.
  • This decline has continued with a further decrease of 16% from 3597 in 2013 to 3033 in 2018.
  • There is not a single management protocol in place for the Kokoda tourism industry.
  • The overall decline in trekker numbers as a result of the management system put in place by Environment-DFAT officials in PNG has resulted in an estimated loss of $20 million (K50 million) in tourism revenue for PNG; a loss of 70,000 working days for PNG guides and carriers; and a loss of $580,000 (K1.5 million) for campsite owners along the trail.


DFAT Kokoda Initiative officials should be called to account to explain why they have refused to invest in a single hygienic toilet for trekkers (taxpayers) anywhere acorss the Trail over the past 10-years?

DFAT-Kokoda Initiative officials should be called to account for their failure to develop campsite management-development plan over the past 10 years.

DFAT-Kokoda Initiatives should be called to account to explain their failure to develop village-based ready reaction teams to clear obstacles along the Trail and keep it safe.

DFAT-Kokoda Initiative officials should be called on to account for their failure to develop a sustainable trail management plan which provides for local villagers to be employed to prevent erosion and why they have failed to engage trekking companies to provide feedback on works needed and works completed.


[i] 2019 Annual Review Report Papua New Guinea–Australia Governance Partnership Quality and Technical Assurance Group Final Report



[ii] Kokoda Initiative Master Plan by Trip Consultants August 2015



[i] ‘Heritage’ was eventually dropped from the Department which was rebadged as the Department for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC)

[i] Special Purpose Authorities are established to serve the interests of landowners of Mining and Petroleum impact project areas. EMTV Report