auDA latest — all’s well that ends well

By LAURIE PATTON | 28 September 2018 

Despite a nasty and at times irrational campaign by a group known as the Grumpies, the future of Australia’s Internet domain names system was secured yesterday.

Members overwhelmingly approved a new constitution and consequential governance changes to auDA – the company managing our domain names service.

This follows a demand for reform after a review by the Department of Communications and the Arts found the organisation’s governance processes no longer fit-for-purpose.

Over several months a small band of dissidents posted sensationist material on a range of industry and social media forums. But in the end they failed to ever put forward a coherent case outlining exactly what they think is wrong with the domain names registry system.

Their efforts merely served to confirm the conclusion of the communications department and its minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, that an outdated governance regime was the key problem. Senator Fifield rightly demanded that future boards have a majority of independent directors.

This is from a statement released overnight by auDA…

“auDA, Australia’s .au domain name administrator and regulator, will continue its reform process following the approval of a new Constitution by members at today’s Extraordinary General Meeting.

Members voted overwhelmingly to approve the new constitution which will see a new governance model introduced.

In April this year the Department of Communications and the Arts released its review of auDA – the first such review in 17 years – which found the governance arrangements were no longer fit for purpose.

Following months of stakeholder engagement a new constitution has been developed which will see a two year transition to a single class of member, as opposed to the previous Supply and Demand class members, open to any applicant who has a demonstrable link to Australia.

This link will be satisfied if a member is eligible to register an open or closed existing Second Level Domain (2LD). This will require most members to either operate an Australian business or be a permanent resident of Australia.

Recognising that diversification of the membership will take some time, there will be a transitional period during which there will be a closed group of ‘Governing Members’ and an open group of ‘Associate Members’.

During the transitional period, which will be a maximum of two years and may be shorter if the number of Associate Members reaches 12,500, Associate Members will be able to vote on a ballot of Elected Directors. After the transitional period and subject to member’s consent, auDA will revert to a single-membership class.

The new Constitution will also usher in a new of level corporate responsibility with a board model that features six independent directors including the chair and four elected directors by the Associate Members, all of whom will have been approved by a Nomination Committee, having been selected on the basis of the board skills matrix.

The Nomination Committee will initially consist of those persons appointed by the Board on the recommendation of DoCA, initially comprising the auDA Board chair as chair of the Nomination Committee and representatives from each of industry, the business sector, consumers, auDA members and government.”

As I have previously noted, Australia is a country in transition. Although we don’t hear as much about the ‘innovation nation’ these days as we did a few years back, the reality is our future prosperity still lies in embracing a digitally enabled world. Nearly every business has a website, making the proper management of domain names a critical issue.

auDA has been mired in controversy for too many years, so yesterday’s result was an important step in the direction of much needed reform.

POSTSCRIPT: On Wednesday 3 October 2018 one of the lead Grumpies, Josh Rowe, emailed auDA members with this apology: “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 has been 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 auDA or Afilias.)