auDA given ultimatum to sort out Internal affairs

By LAURIE PATTON | 10 May 2018

Turmoil within Australia’s internet domain administration could lead to it being handed back to the government. From my experience dealing with domain name owners and users in my former role as executive director of Internet Australia, I doubt it is in anyone’s best interests for this to occur.

In 2001, the Australian Government handed the role of administering internet names to a company created for that purpose called .au Domain Administration Limited – commonly known as auDA. auDA is a member-based organisation that employs a “multi-stakeholder” model for its governance.

In recent years auDA has been mired in controversy, with two presidents toppled amid boardroom machinations and a group of former directors and members now seeking to remove the current administration.

In a statement from the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield, the government has put auDA on notice. The company has been given three months to sort things out or face the prospect of the role being taken back by the government.

Writing in the New Daily, highly respected journalist Quentin Dempster recently observed that there was a widespread view within the Department of Communications and the Arts that auDA had been “subject to capture” and “membership stacking by vested interests”.

Mr Dempster also notes that “popular domain names can be worth tens of thousands of dollars on the secondary market’, pointing out that some domain names are ‘registered and developed to increase their market value and some hoarded purely for speculative gain”. So you can see why people might seek to influence control of auDA.

I don’t know anyone who thinks auDA moving into the bureaucracy is a good idea. So it will be up to the members to decide how to ensure this does not happen.

The current auDA board and its recently elected chair, Chris Leptos, have raised serious concerns about the manner in which the company had operated in recent years. An independent report commissioned by auDA has apparently led to information being provided to the police, with rumours of possible criminal charges being considered.

A dissident group including former auDA board member Josh Rowe and former auDA staff member Paul Szyndler have created a blog site called Grumpier and called for the removal of three auDA board members; chairman Leptos and independent directors Sandra Hook and Suzanne Ewart.

Fairfax journalist Adele Ferguson has reported that Mr Szyndler is alleged to have converted a business class airfare for a trip to the U.S. into economy travel for his family and other related personal expenses. Mr Szyndler told Ms Ferguson he was acting within company policy guidelines and that he had done nothing wrong.

So, what happens next? A special general meeting is scheduled for 27 July 2018. Members will be asked to vote on a resolution to oust the three board members.

In a recent message to members, chairman Leptos said:

“We are also working closely with the Department of Communications and the Arts. Their priority, and ours, is to ensure the stability and security of the .au namespace”.

It’s hard to see how any further controversy is going to help soothe the nerves of a clearly concerned Minister Fifield. In fact, further board turmoil is more likely to hasten the potential demise of auDA and the mooted government takeover.

(Laurie Patton is the former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing the interests of internet users and a chapter of the Global Internet Society, which is the primary organisation overseeing the management of the internet. This article first appeared in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations.)