Facts and fiction: More on the auDA situation

By LAURIE PATTON | 1 June 2018

As we approach the auDA Special General Meeting to be held on 27 July 2018 I decided to throw a few pertinent questions at CEO Cameron Boardman. As I’ve previously written, I simply can’t see how any further public displays of disunity are helping the situation, but it is also important that we decide the future of the organisation based on facts.

1. What is your reaction to calls for your dismissal?

BOARDMAN: As the CEO of auDA, like any other CEO, I hold my position with the confidence of the board. Members have the right to seek changes at board level, but management must be separate from the membership, as in any other company. I do welcome constructive feedback from members and speak with many members often on how we can further improve the administration of the .au namespace.

2. Your chair, Chris Leptos, has been criticised for saying there will be “winners and losers” from any changes to direct registration. Do you agree with him?

BOARDMAN: There are many different views on potential policy changes. That’s to be expected and is not unusual in a situation like this in what is a complex issue. My chair has a responsibility to communicate openly. This is just plain common sense and effective leadership. The responsibility of the organisation is to come up with a well-reasoned and researched outcome in the interests of the entire Australian community, based on extensive consultation, impact assessment and evidence-based reasoning.

3. auDA has been accused of a lack of transparency. It’s been pointed out that there was a lag in posting board minutes on the website a while back. What is your comment on this claim?

BOARDMAN: As a rule, board minutes are posted as soon as practicable after they have been reviewed and adopted. There was a slight hiccup but that has been attended to. However, regular newsletters are provided to members to keep them up to date with the latest news and any significant developments. Issues around content and style of the minutes has never been raised with me. There is a formal process required for the board to make any board report public. We are constantly reviewing procedures in this regard. For instance, the most recent board meeting adopted a minutes publishing policy.

4. The direct registration issue is apparently causing friction among some members. What do you say to claims that multitudes of registrants wouldn’t even know it is on the horizon?

BOARDMAN: Quite properly, issues around direct registration are being considered by the independent Policy Review Panel. The decision to introduce direct registration was actually made by a previous board, prior to my appointment. However, the new board has decided to postpone any final decision until the second half of next year at the earliest.

5. The independent Policy Review Panel has been described as “fatally flawed” and criticised on the basis of its small membership. Your reaction?

BOARDMAN: The chair of the PRP, John Swinson, is highly committed to this process and from what I can see, is running a thorough and consultative process. The quality of panel members is extremely high and Mr Swinson has expanded and diversified the panel. The PRP is independent and will present its recommendations to the board for consideration. This is no different to the processes followed since auDA was established.

6. It has been said that auDA’s Constitution is old and tired, and needs to reflect current realities. Will this be happening?

BOARDMAN: It was appropriate to await the Government’s governance recommendations before determining what to do about the Constitution. It will be one of the board’s top priorities this year. A detailed implementation plan was sent to the Minister for Communications and the Arts and his department on May 17. It will be made public subject to their response. The plan outlines the process auDA will embark on to consult the members regarding reform. The Consultation Model Working Group has been established and is already meeting. The CMWG’s focus is to develop a model of consultation that ensures all auDA members and wider stakeholders of the .au namespace have a chance to provide feedback on the constitutional changes auDA needs to make to meet the Government’s new Terms of Endorsement. The working group consists of representatives from around Australia from both city and rural areas and includes auDA Demand and Supply Members, small business owners and other industry experts. The working group is a reflection of auDA’s commitment to a multi-stakeholder model of management for the .au namespace. This working group will be instrumental in creating a consultation model that enables all parts of the digital economy to have their say on these important issues.

7. What do you say to the charge that the submission put to the Government had no member consultation?

BOARDMAN: All auDA members had an opportunity to submit to the review. auDA’s submission was unanimously endorsed by the board acting in the interests of the organisation as board members are required to do.

8. It has been suggested there are rumours floating around about the PPB forensic report and possible financial irregularities, and that if there is any substance these should be disclosed to members and the parties concerned. Your comment?

BOARDMAN: The findings of the PPB Report has been referred to Victoria Police. It is not appropriate to provide further details on these matters until the police investigation is complete.

9. You have been asked about legal fees and settlement agreements that auDA has incurred over the past two years. What is the position?

BOARDMAN: All members have access to the same financial information. This can be found in the Annual Reports, audited and adopted by the board and the members.

10. You’ve also been asked about a number of staff departures in recent times. Your response?

BOARDMAN: There have been some staff changes, but this is quite normal, especially when there’s been a change of CEO and changes to the operations of the company. Personnel are appointed on merit, as is to be expected. The auDA board and auDA staff members are performing their duties professionally and effectively. Any claims to the contrary need to be referred to me and supported by real evidence.

11. The current registry operator is about to be replaced. This has raised questions about the future pricing arrangements. What is the situation?

BOARDMAN: Afilias is well advanced with transition planning to take over the registry operations. There is a commitment to at least a $12 million investment in .au brand awareness, cooperative marketing, innovation and enhanced security for the .au namespace which will have considerable benefits for all .au stakeholders. This will be one of the most significant investments ever in the.au namespace. This is along with a reduction of at least 10 percent in the wholesale fee per domain and the introduction of variable licence periods for between one year and up to five years to give Australian consumers flexibility with managing their domain names.

12. auDA is described as a member-based organisation with a responsibility to represent a wide range of interests within the names space community and also users of domain names. What is your vision for ensuring that this is the case in the future?

BOARDMAN: It’s worth noting that the review by the Department of Communications and the Arts noted that auDA’s governance and operating model was no longer fit for purpose. That’s certainly the view I’ve held since becoming CEO. I’d like to see a new membership structure that expands the range of stakeholders and limits the risk that vested interests can gain a hold on the organisation. This was highlighted in the department’s report.

13. What do you say to claims directors are effectively muzzled from talking effectively and meaningfully to the members that voted for them?

BOARDMAN: This is a serious allegation and is without foundation. Directors carry out their duties as required under the Corporations Act 2001, the auDA Constitution and other relevant obligations. Of course, they are not able to disclose confidential information without the authority of the board, as is the situation in every other company in the country.

14. I read recently that auDA has registered the whois.au and registry.au domains. Why was this done?

BOARDMAN: As you know, we are currently in the process of moving the management of our registry operations to Afilias. These registrations were made to assist with the testing environment associated with the registry transition. auDA made a decision to use whois.au and registry.au for this purpose. The current whois and registry portal URLs are licensed to the current operator and therefore couldn’t be used in the test environment. This has nothing to do with the direct registration issue. It is a critical part of the transition and needs to be viewed this way.

(Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and the former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is currently advising Afilias Australia, the company that took 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.)