Call for inquiry into Kokoda Trail management

Former Army Major, Charlie Lynn, is calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the management collapse of Australia’s most significant Pacific War icon and PNG’s most popular tourism destination.

Lynn, who is about to lead his 101st expedition across the Kokoda Trail, said: “The decline in management started after Australian Government officials shifted responsibility for the management of the Kokoda Trail from PNG Tourism to the PNG Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA).

“Since then, the Trail has been managed as a socio-environment resource rather than as a tourism enterprise,” said the Kokoda tour operator.

“When it was managed by PNG Tourism, trekker numbers increased dramatically by 1,440 percent from 365 per year in 2002 to 5,621 in 2008.

“Since the Australian Government assumed responsibility for the Kokoda Trail under a Joint Understanding with the PNG Government in 2009, trekker numbers have plummeted by 46 percent to around 3,000 a year.

“This has resulted in a cumulative loss of almost K45 million in foregone wages, campsite fees and local purchases for subsistence villagers across the Trail.

“Because the Kokoda Trail is now managed as an environment resource, there are no tourism management systems in place – there are no campsite development plans or booking systems, no trek itinerary management systems, no trail maintenance systems, etcetera, etcetera – in fact there is not a single management protocol in place for the 3,000 Australians who trek across it each year.

“Tour operators who have paid more than K12 million for trek permit fees have no idea where their money has gone because CEPA-KTA refuse to publish annual financial reports - all we know is that it doesn’t reach the villagers it was designed to support.

“We also know that not a single kina has been invested in a campsite – or even a toilet – to meet the needs of trekkers.”

The founder of ‘Adventure Kokoda’, who was inducted as an Officer of the Logohu in 2015, said a blind eye has been turned to the proliferation of illegal Australian tour companies who fail to comply with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) and therefore, avoid paying tax on the millions of dollars they generate in PNG.

“Of more concern is the fact that we are now only one month away from the start of the 2023 trekking season but tour operators, who generate the income for the multi-million kina Kokoda tourism industry, have no idea what is going on.

“We have not received any information from the PNG KTA since October last year.

“We have no idea on the condition of the Trail or the state of the bridges which could have major safety implications in the lead-up to Anzac Day next month.

“We have no idea if campsites have been restored since Covid – we don’t even know if they have built any toilets that comply with the most basic hygiene standards.”

Lynn believes the only solution now is to have PNG reclaim ownership of its Kokoda Trail and return responsibility for its management from CEPA back to PNG Tourism.

Press Release