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auDA Battling to Save Itself After Scathing Government Review Says “No Longer Fit-For-Purpose”

auDA has been put on notice that it needs to reform or its gone following an Australian government review into its operations. The report has found “urgent reforms are necessary”. But reform won’t come easy with significant changes required to its constitution, and without significant changes in leadership, Members will be reluctant to support them. Meanwhile the auDA dirty tricks campaign has taken to Twitter with fake or troll Twitter accounts attacking the 3 behind the call for a SGM.

“The central finding of the review is that auDA’s current management framework is no longer fit-for-purpose and reform is necessary if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community,” said the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield in a statement.

In putting on a brave face, auDA has said they welcome the findings. But the reforms required are going to be nigh on impossible for the current auDA leadership to achieve. Given the .au policy and regulatory body’s constitution, they will require Member support. And Members are not happy with the current auDA leadership, ready to vote out the 3 independent directors, including the Chair, and for a vote of no confidence in the CEO Cameron Boardman in the Special General Meeting that, unless auDA’s lawyers can stop it, will happen in late May. The fake or troll Twitter accounts attacking Josh Rowe, Paul Szyndler and Jim Stewart are all sparingly used and have been making spurious allegations against the 3.

auDA’s endorsement from the Australian government under which it operates has been put on notice with the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield advising auDA “endorsement of auDA as the appropriate entity to hold the delegation of authority for administration of the .au ccTLD will be subject at all times to auDA meeting the conditions as outlined in the ToE [Terms of Endorsement].”

auDA has 10 business days to respond “to the report's recommendations and the accompanying ToE … including an assessment of the achievability of implementing the revised ToE.” The Minister has also requested an update on the “the likelihood of successful implementation of the registry transformation project” and an update on direct registrations.

To achieve compliance, the government is demanding the reforms be implemented “to achieve compliance with the new ToE within the next twenty-four months (by April 2020)” and 6 monthly updates on progress with “significant progress to have been made by auDA at each of these checkpoints.”

Under the ToE, auDA is also required to “develop a strategy to enable an orderly transition to an alternative domain administrator in the event that endorsement is withdrawn by the Government.”

The review makes 29 recommendations, accepted by the Government, which focus on:

  • reforming auDA’s management framework
  • supporting effective stakeholder engagement
  • outlining the role and expectations of the Government
  • fostering greater trust and confidence in the .au namespace.

The report is critical of the “current membership model, and its relationship to corporate governance” and it “is impeding auDA’s decision making and is contributing to ongoing organisational instability.” It goes on to say the membership class structure is not reflective of Australia’s internet community nor auDA’s stakeholders and that the current process of selecting the “majority of directors are appointed from the membership does not support effective governance outcomes.” There are also criticisms of “directors [who] can be elected to the board with little regard to the skills required to effectively govern a modern domain administrator. Directors are also not required to meet probity, security or conflict of interest checks.” The review recommends a suitably qualified Nominating Committee to vet potential Board members as well as diversifying its membership base reforming its membership model.

“The Government’s review is timely to ensure the right framework is in place so that Australia’s .au domain administrator is modern, fit-for-purpose and supports the interests of Australia’s internet users,” Minister Fifield said.

“The Government has issued modernised terms of endorsement to auDA, reflecting changes to the digital landscape. These terms of endorsement outline the Government’s expectations and provide auDA with the mandate to make the necessary reforms to its governance arrangements.

“The Government expects to see significant progress within the next 3 to 6 months from auDA in implementing these changes.”

The review and more information is available for download from:

* Disclosure: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a supplier to auDA for 14 years and is now a supplier to Neustar providing online media monitoring services.