KOKODA TRAIL MANAGEMENT ISSUES

KOKODA TRAIL MANAGEMENT ISSUES

The Covid-19 pause provides PNG a timely opportunity to recalibrate their management of the Kokoda Trail and work towards developing it as a World class destination based on our shared wartime heritage.

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Shame on the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA)

 ‘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. (more…)

Welfare of Kokoda Trail Guides and Carriers

The welfare of PNG guides and carriers has been a contentious subject for some years however the recent death of a carrier who was allegedly overloaded by an Australian trek operator has brought the issue of their exploitation to to the forefront of the debate.

A recent forum organised by the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) in Brisbane resulted in the CEO of PNG Tourism calling for a response to the issues that were raised – but could not be properly addressed due to agenda/time constraints.

Following is the submission by Adventure Kokoda on the issue of welfare for PNG guides and carriers engaged in the Kokoda Trekking Industry:

Preamble

This response to the draft Minutes of the KTA Forum conducted in Brisbane on 28 November 2018 is based on the collective views of Adventure Kokoda trek leaders who have a combined total of 130 years professional army experience and who have led more than 520 expeditions across the trail over the past 27 years. Our ‘experience’ in protecting the welfare of our local guides and carriers is in line with the conclusions reached by Dr Geoffrey Vernon, Regimental Medical Officer for the 39th Battalion during the Kokoda campaign.

The KTA Forum was conducted at short notice with insufficient time to prepare detailed submissions for discussion. As it transpired it was more of a briefing session. No Notices of Motions were provided, none were moved and the only substantive decision taken was to have another forum in May 2019!

The Minutes of the previous Tour Operators Forum held in Cairns on 14-15 November were not tabled nor discussed in accordance with normal protocols. These minutes have now been outstanding for more than a year and the fact that they have never been produced after trek operators went to considerable expense to attend is indicative of either negligent administration or a cover-up of some sort.

Our Adventure Kokoda response to the forum will be in two parts.

  • Part 1 will address the most important issue that can no longer be postponed because it concerns the welfare protection of the local guides and carriers for the 2019 trekking season..
  • Part 2 will address the other issues presented at the forum and will be submitted early in the New Year.

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Wayne Wetherall – Kokoda Spirit Struck Out

A long running defamation case brought against The Hon Charlie Lynn OAM OL and Adventure Kokoda by Wayne Wetherall and his trekking company, Kokoda Spirit, was struck out in the Maroochydore District Court last Friday.

The case involved false claims made by Wetherall and plagiarism of the Adventure Kokoda website by Kokoda Spirit.

The court found that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had failed to prosecute their claims for defamation against Adventure Kokoda and Charlie Lynn within a reasonable time.

They had tried to blame their solicitor but the court found that they were to blame as well as the solicitor. In throwing out their claims, the court declined to make a finding that Kokoda Spirit and Wetherall had established reasonable prospects of success in their suits for defamation.

Charlie Lynn and Adventure Kokoda were awarded their costs of the 7 year proceeding to be paid by Wayne Wetherall and Kokoda Spirit.

 

Why does PNG tolerate ‘blackbirding’ on Kokoda?

Recent articles on the history of ‘blackbirding’ in the Pacific should serve to shine the spotlight on the Australian Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KTOA) whose member lead treks across the Kokoda Trail.

The most abhorrent practice condoned by many KTOA members is the ‘student discount’ which allows them to claim a 50 per cent discount for their trek fees.  This effectively means that subsistence villagers along the trail have to subsidise wealthy Australian private school students who trek with them. One can only hope that these school are unaware that they are participating in a modern adaption of blackbirding.

Of more concern is the fact that PNG leaders responsible for the welfare of their people along the trail allow themselves to be bullied into accepting such a practice by the KTOA.

Following is a snapshot of villagers along the trail who are being forced to subsidise wealthy Australian private school students. Why? (more…)

Blackbirders on Kokoda – BeAware

School holidays offer great opportunities for Australian ‘blackbirders’ operating on the Kokoda Trail.

Blackbirding was a form of slavery which saw Papua New Guineans coerced into working as cheap labour on Queensland sugar plantations in the late 19th Century before it was outlawed.

However the practice has mutated into various forms since then and now involves shady operators who have cashed in on the Kokoda trekking industry over the past decade. Papua New Guinea is a governance free zone for blackbirders who are not subject to the same scrutiny they would receive in Australia.

The current dysfunction and debasement of the Kokoda Trail management authority provides them with free rein to promote themselves as legitimate. They are akin to a malarial parasite running through a quinine free bloodstream. There are no limits to the extent they can exploit local Papua New Guinean guides, carriers and villagers who live in a subsistence economy and are desperate for work.

They are slick and hard to detect. They have established their own ‘Kokoda Tour Operators Association’ to disguise their exploitation and provide a form of self-legitimacy. Their websites boast of emotive ‘passion for our diggers’ amid claims to be ‘historians – explorers – adventurers’ even through there is no prior record of their commitment to these ideals through previous active service or support to veterans’ organizations.

It seems more than coincidence that their faux passion happened to coincide with the opportunity to make a dollar out of it. (more…)