By LAURIE PATTON | 28 Jul 2018
The proposition that there’s widespread member concern at the state of auDA – the company managing our Internet domain names – has been dealt a definitive blow.
Firstly, the vote at a Special General Meeting to decide the fate of three directors, including independent chair Chris Leptos, saw them retain their positions. Secondly, voter turnout was extremely low, suggesting most members are at least satisfied that long needed reform is progressing. Thirdly, the disruptive behaviour of a dissident group, appropriately known as the Grumpies, reinforced the view that they and their cause have no merit.
The auDA constitution, which is currently under review after a government report found the organisation no longer fit-for-purpose, provides for two membership classes. ‘Supply’ class members are industry participants (domain name registry operators, registrars and resellers). The much larger group, the ‘demand class’, is for anyone else willing to pay the $22 to joining fee. A resolution at a general meeting needs the support of both member classes to succeed.
According to the auDA website, while a majority of demand class votes supported motions seeking the directors’ removal, less than 30 percent of eligible members actually bothered to vote. To me this suggests those not voting probably saw little point in the proposition. I’d also note that more than 70 percent of demand class votes in favour were cast by proxy, meaning they were most likely ‘harvested’ by the Grumpies.
More than 90 percent of supply class votes opposed the motions.
The meeting started well enough. Two members of a recently created Consultation Model Working Group provided a summary of its work and encouraged members to continue to provide their input. The introduction of an online forum was foreshadowed, along with a recommendation for a new governance model with a single member class – as proposed in a recent Department of Communications and the Arts report.
Things began to deteriorate when it was noticed that one of the lead Grumpies, Jim Stewart, was illegally filming the meeting. Stewart’s argumentative response when told to cease set the tone for his and others’ subsequent exchanges with the chair.
One member voiced his objection to auDA CEO, Cameron Boardman, chairing the CMWG. This complaint received short shrift, with CMWG members observing that it was vital for the CEO to be involved and commenting that Boardman’s contribution had greatly assisted the speedy work required. auDA has been given only three months by the Government to put its house back in order.
Another debate concerned the recent admittance of members living overseas. The chair explained that auDA had no legal right to exclude them under the current constitution. He also noted that people working offshore for organisations involved in the Australian Internet community could be argued to be entitled to auDA membership. This included staff from the new registry operator, Afilias, located in Canada and providing 24/7 support here in Australia.
Suffice to say it was largely downhill from this point with a barrage of confrontational questions from three or four members, many times having to be threatened with expulsion for defying the chair’s request to be seated.
Perhaps the most bizarre contribution was from a would-be ‘bush lawyer’ who argued his interpretation of clause 203D of the Corporations Act (concerning to the removal of a director by the members) was superior to that of auDA’s advisors, top-tier lawyers Ashurst. His contention that all the votes should be combined rather than counted separately for the two classes as per the Constitution was promptly rejected.
The majority of the other questions covered old ground, including the issue of direct registration – which the board has already stated has been deferred for decision until the second half of next year.
I recently wrote of the hope that after this SGM we could all move on, while noting that this was probably unlikely. Presumably the Grumpies will use industry and social media platforms to provide their version of the meeting. Sadly, I suspect they will continue with what I described last week as one of the most disingenuous and destructive social media campaigns I have ever seen by so-called professionals. On that note I should observe that, from the chair, Chris Leptos issued an only slightly veiled threat to the Grumpies who he said have so far refused to withdraw their unfounded allegations of criminal conduct and “cartel behaviour”.
Notably, officials from the communications department attended the meeting. One can only assume they came away with a wide-eyed appreciation of the reality that auDA is only under attack from a minority of overly emotional members, each of whom has a particular personal interest in their preference for the old ways rather than the improved future the Government has demanded.
I’ll give auDA the last word. From its news release:
“auDA is not the plaything of a small group of self-interested parties. It can no longer be run as a club type organisation with a small membership who wield undue influence. In 2000 the .au network had just 200,000 registrants now it has more than 3.1 million. AuDA must be run in the interest of all stakeholders including businesses whose livelihoods depend on a safe and secure .au namespace and individuals who use .au every day”.
POSTSCRIPT: Lead Grumpy, Josh Rowe, has been forced to issue a public apology, published in the Australian Financial Review. Rowe said: “In communications on 24 and 26 July (2018), I suggested that auDA and certain of its officers and staff engaged in criminal cartel conduct in relation to recent applications for auDA membership. I had no basis for making these allegations. I hereby retract the allegations and apologise to auDA and its officers, staff and members for any offence, harm or damage caused by the allegations”.
(Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and the former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is currently advising Afilias Australia, the company appointed to take over the management of the .au registry for auDA from 1 July 2018. However, the views expressed here are his own and have not been endorsed by Afilias.)