Tag Archives: .au

Has the Australian Government Got Fed up With auDA?

auDA logoThe Australian Government has ordered a review into the operations of the .au policy and regulatory body, auDA. Could it be that after 2 years or turmoil and mismanagement that the government has had enough?

Could it be that in the 2.5 years since Chris Disspain was unexpectedly dismissed as CEO, with a further 11 (at least) of the 13 then existing staff either leaving or questionably booted, along with some prize recruits coming and going, and an unusual turnover of board members outside normal elections, along with the often bumbling of policy and registry reviews and a member revolt that led to the then Chair resigning, the government has had enough? In the last week it has become known that industry participant and board member aspirant Nicole Murdoch has written to the Minister about irregularities within auDA.

Both the Minister for Communications and the Arts, publicly at least, and auDA who manages Australia's country code top level domain (ccTLD) have tried to paint it as a welcome review. The Minister has said the review is about ensuring .au “remains fit for purpose in serving the needs of Australians online.”

The Minister’s statement says that since auDA was established in 2000 “the digital landscape has changed significantly as the economy increasingly revolves around the internet.”

In a statement from auDA, they say the “Board and Executive of auDA today welcomed the announcement of a Federal Government review into the .au domain.”

“The .au domain is one of the most trusted domain zones in the world and we look forward to working with the government and Australian internet community to maintain and enhance that position,” said auDA Interim Board Chair Erhan Karabardak.

“auDA’s multi-stakeholder work on the Registry Transformation Project and Policy Review Panel will continue throughout the review.

“It is critical that we have the best possible model for managing the domain, and that our risk and mitigation strategies are among the best in the world.”

The review will be undertaken by the Department of Communications and the Arts and will examine the most appropriate framework for the domain and will also identify risk and mitigation strategies for the security and stability of the .au domain.

The next step is the Department will shortly release a discussion paper seeking input from interested industry and community stakeholders with the review expected to be finalised by early 2018.

The terms of reference for the review are available at: https://www.communications.gov.au/documents/terms-reference-review-au-domain-administration

The auDA Debacles Continue as Highly Respected Company Secretary Booted

auDA logoDomainer broke the news today that Di Parker, auDA’s highly respected Director Corporate and Regulatory Services and Company Secretary is leaving the organisation, but not of her own choice.

The information came to Domainer via two separate people in the internet industry (not auDA Directors or staff). auDA is the .au policy and regulatory body.

According to Domainer’s Ned O’Meara, it is his understanding “that it was not her choice to leave. Her last official day is tomorrow [Friday], but word is that she has not been working out of 1 Collins Street for a number of weeks. According to the Board Minutes of 6th September, she was not present.

The departure of Parker, who was highly respected by those that knew her, continues the revolving door of people leaving since Cameron Boardman commenced as CEO in August 2016. As Domain Pulse reported yesterday, 5 directors have gone in 2017 alone, all outside the usual election cycle. And another 2 departed in the month that Boardman commenced, prior to the November AGM when elections were held.

On the staff side of things, Domain Pulse emailed auDA Wednesday asking for information on staff turnover, however as of publication no response has been forthcoming. It is believed there were 14 staff at auDA when the debacles commenced with the sacking of then CEO, and soon to be Vice-Chair of the ICANN Board, Chris Disspain. Since then it is believed there may be only one staff member remaining, with others such as Rachael Falk being recruited and then pushed out. Others to have gone include long-serving staff such as Jo Lim, effectively auDA’s number 2 and their Chief Operations and Policy Officer and Paul Szyndler, auDA’s General Manager of International and Government Affairs.

On Di Parker, O’Meara, often critical of auDA, was full of praise on several occasions. O’Meara writes that:
“As I said publicly at the SGM, Di Parker is (was) an absolute asset to auDA. The organisation and members are (were) lucky to have her. Her integrity and straight-shooting was beyond reproach. My sentiments were echoed on the day by Cameron Boardman (CEO).”

Trellian.com Acquires Successful Drop Catch Platform DomainShield.com.au

trellian-logoTrellian has announced a further expansion into the .au drop catch business with the acquisition of the drop catch platform DomainShield.com.au.

Having only a handful of auDA accredited registrars that are authorized to drop catch, the acquisition further strengthens Trellian’s February 2017 acquisition of Drop.com.au drop catch platform and registrar.

The two drop catching operations will gradually be consolidated under the Drop.com.au brand, taking the best parts from each platform, plus many other functions from the existing Above.com Domain Portfolio Manager and Marketplace.

David Warmuz, CEO of Trellian stated:

“After our drop.com.au acquisition we quickly realised that there was one key component missing: .au drop catch know how. We could learn and fine tune, but this would take months/years. Or we could partner with someone that obviously has the missing piece. So having someone like Anthony on board just made sense. I am eager to see what the future holds and I look forward to working with Anthony on reviving the drop.com.au drop catch platform.”

Anthony Peake, CEO of DomainShield.com.au stated:

“I am excited to be joining the team at Trellian and making the best drop catcher for .au domain names. Having Trellian’s resources behind me will be a huge help and I am especially thrilled to be working on Drop.com.au again. I love the brand and I still consider drop.com.au as my baby.”

auDA Director Slams Board and Members on the Way Out

auDA logoIn what seems a bit of a revolving door these days, both at Board and staff level, another Director resigned their position at auDA, the .au policy regulator, on 14 August, making it 2 in one day. In 2017 alone and outside the normal election of Directors, 5 Directors have “resigned” their positions.

The latest to resign from the Board of auDA, the .au policy regulator, was Leonie Walsh who advised the board [pdf] of her resignation on 14 August according to minutes 177 words long that took 2 months to be published. The Board meeting, which went for 6.5 hours and was in-camera, has been the subject of whispers as to what went on. But all we know for sure was that Walsh and Michaella Richards both resigned. Others to resign in 2017 were Kartic Srinivasan and Tony Staley on 31 January and then Chair Stuart Benjamin on 31 July.

In advising the Board of her resignation Walsh said:
“I no longer have confidence in the Board process and believe it is leading auDA away from the original reform agenda that I believe is necessary for the sustainability and security of auDA in the future.

“I am also concerned with behaviours of a small minority of the membership. There is nothing acceptable about the practise of targeting Board members and staff personally to raise attention on issues or outcomes of the Board.”

In the minutes [pdf] the Board also noted “the potentially defamatory website publications concerning Dr Michaella Richards in connection with her appointment as a director of auDA. These publications also negatively comment on the Company’s governance processes.”

These “potentially defamatory website publications” include Domain Pulse and Domainer, both of whom have been calling for improvements in accountability and transparency at auDA, including the reinstatement of Board minutes that were deleted, along with consultative recommendations from previous Panels, in particular Industry Advisory Panels. While there have been some improvements with historical information reinstated, the paucity of information in Board meeting minutes is problematic.

Walsh’s complaints about the “small minority of the membership” are troubling. auDA seems to forget that they, as a membership-based organisation, are accountable to their members. And a sizeable majority of members, who would have voted to oust then Chair Stuart Benjamin had he not resigned before a Special General Meeting, are angry about the direction of the organisation. While it is debatable as to whether the concerns are valid or not, auDA as an organisation has been woeful in communication with its members along with transparency and accountability.

As auDA refused to listen to the concerns of members, members found the only way to have their voice heard was to exercise their rights under the Corporations Act. And while they may be coming from different angles and have differing issues, Walsh and many members agree on one thing. auDA is not working. From the members’ point of view, their only remedy to being repeatedly ignored was under the Corporations Act and Constitution – to remove Board members.

9 Registries Vying to Operate .AU

auDA logoA total of 9 registries have submitted full responses to operate the .au ccTLD in response to auDA’s Request for Tender (RFT) for the Registry Transformation Project (RTP).

The RFT was issued on 1 September with the closing date extended by 1 week to 2 October at the request of a majority of respondents to allow them more time to provide high quality responses, according to a short statement issued by auDA.

The current registry operator is Neustar, which has operated the registry since 2002 when they were awarded the contract to design, develop and implement a Registry system and associated Domain Name System (DNS) infrastructure and provide a platform for innovative usage of this technology in the provision of ‘World’s Best Practice’ Registry services to the .au Domain Administration. In the 15 years total registrations have grown ten-fold to 3,115,365 domains under management across all second level domains from just over 300,000.

The process started out disastrously with auDA claiming they would “build and operate” the registry, but since then have moved to outsource the registry in a competitive tender process that, under the leadership of Bruce Tonkin, appears to have been running smoothly.

auDA Unrest Continues: ‘Hard Politics in a Geeky World’

Another board member has quit the auDA board according to an article in Monday’s Australian Financial Review, one of Australia’s leading business newspapers. The most recent uncovering, that of Leonie Walsh standing down 4 weeks ago, appears to have been kept secret with the newspaper discovering Walsh’s departure by digging through ASIC, Australia’s corporate, markets and financial services regulator, records.

“Following the resignation of chairman Stuart Benjamin on the eve of the SGM [special general meeting], two relatively recent appointments to auDA's 11-member board have since quit,” Myriam Robin writes in the AFR’s Rear Window column. “auDA has so far made public only one of these two departures, that of controversially appointed Michaella Richards (the board issued a defence of Dr Richards' appointment on August 7 then called for nominations to replace her on August 16), yet ASIC documents lodged on August 22 show that another director, Leonie Walsh, stood down on the very same day (August 14). No reason was given for Richards' resignation and the body's corporate secretary says that rumours of a fourth deserter are inaccurate.”

As has been discovered by Domainer recently, and which Robin writes, auDA has moved its offices to new digs at Harry Stamoulis' 1 Collins Street. The move from the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, where the organisation resided for over a decade, appears to be something the organisation was keeping secret. Its contact details are listed on their website as a post office box number and no street address.

The AFR notes how “one auDA member – DomainShield operator Anthony Peake – has even shuttered part of his business in protest at auDA's inability to implement agreed reforms – specifically how individuals can register .au domains.”

The article concludes “a bland corner of a geeky world this one may be, but they sure play their politics as hard as anyone. Which is why we'll be watching this space…”

Director Resigns as auDA Shows Signs of Listening to its Constituency

auDA has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent months. The .au policy and regulatory body announced they were going to “build and operate” the registry in-house, they imposed an onerous Code of Conduct on members and they withdrew all historical board minutes, agendas and reports (public versions) from their website.

Then members became annoyed at the lack of consultation, which auDA is obliged to do which led to the grumpy.com.au petition that included 4 resolutions, relating to the above, as well as the removal of the Chair. auDA received legal advice knocking out 3 of the resolutions, leaving only the removal of the Chair to be voted on. And members, riled, duly started voting to oust the Chair, no doubt many in protest at the knocking out of the 3 resolutions. The Chair, Stuart Benjamin, saw the writing on the wall and resigned days before the vote that was due to be held at a Special General Meeting.

The meeting was still held with auDA saying they were listening. Initial responses showed auDA weren’t listening.

And today it was revealed Dr. Michaella Richards has resigned from the auDA Board. This time auDA is seeking nominations directly from members and interested people instead of using a recruitment firm for the Demand Class Director casual vacancy, according to a statement announcing the resignation.

Now there are flickers that show the organisation is listening to its members. There are indications the organisation is sticking to its current outsourced registry model which has been supported by the industry over the years in a tender that is underway, although with some changes in how the relationship is managed. The Code of Conduct has gone back to the drawing board and so far at least, board minutes, agendas and reports are back on their website.

Australian Regulator Takes Action Against Domain Registration Companies

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking action against 2 fraudulent businesses that have been sending out unsolicited notices to businesses. The ACCC alleges these notices look like renewal invoices for the business’s existing domain name but instead were for the registration of a new domain name, at a cost ranging from A$249 to $275.

The businesses the ACCC has instituted proceedings against are Domain Name Corp Pty Ltd and Domain Name Agency Pty Ltd (also trading as Domain Name Register). The ACCC is also alleging that the sole director of both the Domain companies was involved in the conduct.

From November 2015 to at least April this year, the Domain Companies sent out approximately 300,000 unsolicited notices to businesses.

“The ACCC alleges that because these notices looked like they were renewal invoices, many businesses paid them thinking they were simply renewing the domain name for their business. The ACCC is alleging that the businesses were instead unwittingly signing up for a new domain name ending in either a .net.au or .com suffix that the business might not have needed or wanted,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.

“It is alleged that the notices sent out by the Domain Companies offered domain names that looked very similar to the business’s current domain name. This detail and the fine print disclaimer were easily missed.”

“The ACCC believes that Australian businesses and organisations paid approximately $2.3 million to the Domain Companies as a result of receiving the notices,” Dr Schaper said.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective advertising, disqualifying orders against the director and costs.

The ACCC’s Scamwatch website has previously warned about unsolicited domain name registration offers (link is external).

Consumer Affairs Victoria has produced a video (link is external) that provides further information to businesses about unsolicited domain registration offers.

Unsolicited domain name registration offers are a type of false billing scam (link is external). In 2016, more than 14,500 individual reported to a combined loss of more than $650,000 to false billing scams.

auDA Flying In Another Orbit, Like Pluto’s, In Denial About CEO/Director Conflict of Interest

auDA. What planet are you on? Monday night they released an astonishing statement defending the demand class board appointment of Dr. Michaella Richards in October 2016. The announcement does nothing to address probably the most significant concern about her appointment, that is the undeclared conflict of interest between herself and CEO Cameron Boardman.

In what universe does auDA, and in particular their CEO and Richards, think that having both worked together in the same department at the same time, at least in April 2015 is not something that should be declared when conflicts of interest are addressed?

It appears Richard and Boardman worked together for around 18 months according to the statement below. But auDA, its CEO and Richards have had 10 months to acknowledge this. And said nothing. It only came to light they'd worked together when it was discovered they were both on a delegate list for the AusMedTech2015 [pdf] conference that lists them both working for the Victorian government’s Innovation, Technology and Industry Programs department. Boardman was listed as the department’s Executive Director and Richards as Director. And still there is no disclosure to the board.

At neither the October 2016 board meeting, when Richards’ appointment was announced, nor the November meeting, did either Boardman or Richards deem it of consequence to report their conflict of interest. This is in contrast to Leonie Walsh, whose appointment as an Independent Director was announced at the October meeting, along with Sandra Hook’s, who made an extensive disclosure of her work.

And while auDA has addressed some concerns about the process appointing Richards, there are some who have previously voiced concerns, who have extensive experience with domain names, of which Richards has none, and managerial experience.

Richards’ position on the board comes up for election at the 2017 annual general meeting. It’s hard to see how she will get much in the way of member support. Her term may be short-lived.

The auDA statement, emailed Monday evening around 19:00, reads:

Statement by the auDA Board regarding Dr Michaella Richards, Non-Executive Director

The auDA Board is concerned about misinformation circulating about the process for appointing Non-Executive Director Dr Michaella Richards to the Board in 2016.

For the information of members, the facts are:

  • auDA appointed global recruitment firm Intersearch Partners Australia (‘Intersearch’) to undertake an independent search and recruitment process for the demand class director vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr. Miguel Wood.
  • This exercise was run concurrently with the search exercise for the Independent Director replacements, which were subsequently filled by Leonie Walsh and Sandra Hook respectively
  • This process was conducted in a rigorous and professional manner under the code of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association
  • A detailed position description was developed identifying the skills which the auDA board believed were required on the board at that time, and was used as the basis of candidate assessment
  • 31 candidates were approached and interviewed, including a number of demand class members and other candidates as recommended by a number of current auDA directors
  • A final shortlist of 13 candidates were formally interviewed and referee checks were conducted
  • Intersearch recommended to the auDA board that Michaella Richards be appointed to fill the demand class director vacancy having been interviewed by several Directors.

Intersearch and the Board considered Dr Richards the outstanding candidate given:

  • her significant experience in innovation and technology policy
  • her understanding of government, public procurement, and risk management
  • her high level strategic capabilities

In addition, Dr Richards has undertaken a number of projects for government examining the relevance of ‘Brand Australia’ and the nation’s competitive advantage — including in the digital space. She is also a small business owner and entrepreneur. She owns and manages websites using both .com and .com.au domains.

Both Intersearch and the Board were fully aware of the fact that the CEO and Dr Richards had worked at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources at the same time. This represented 18 months of Dr Richards’ seven years of service at the Department. This fact was considered immaterial to the appointment of Dr Richards.

In the period since her appointment, Dr Richards has been an exemplary contributor to auDA’s deliberations, and the Board supports her wholeheartedly.

While it’s possible auDA could offer more detail, no comment has been sought from auDA. auDA’s Director Communications, Marketing & Engagement has previously advised by email they “don’t usually reply to requests for blog stories – as is outlined on our website contact page.”

* Disclaimer: 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 AusRegistry proving online media monitoring services and contributing to the Behind the Dot magazine.

‘Too Snobby’ auDA Stuck in a Pre-1990s Time Warp

Following the auDA Special General Meeting last week, more of which is to come (or read some updates on the Domainer blog), I started to think how auDA is stuck in some pre-1990s time warp. And today retiring veteran Australian political journalist Laurie Oakes is reported by The Guardian as saying “journalists should not be ‘too snobby’ about digital startups”.

Oakes is looking at this issue from a different perspective to me, as he says journalists shouldn’t “be ‘too snobby’ about digital startups like BuzzFeed because cat videos are funding real journalism.”

From a different angle, auDA has that snobbiness. Because auDA refuses to speak to anyone they consider a “blogger”. Which one could easily interpret as auDA being “too snobby”.

auDA’s Director Communications, Marketing & Engagement has said in an email in response to questions some months ago “we don’t usually reply to requests for blog stories – as is outlined on our website contact page.” And on their website they say “generally opinion writers, commentators, bloggers and others should seek auDA information on our website and normal correspondence channels.” Is there another top level domain registry, or policy and regulatory body, that has this elitist or snobby attitude? Not in my decade plus of writing about domain names. And this was definitely not the auDA pre current CEO Cameron Boardman.

But then, being stuck in a pre-1990s time warp isn’t too surprising. Back in the 1960s it would have been acceptable for the CEO to have had some form of professional relationship with a director and to not bother to declare it. Which is precisely what happened with CEO Cameron Boardman and recently appointed director Dr. Michaella Richards. Both had failed to declare, desire numerous opportunities to do so, a conflict of interest in Richards’ appointment in that both had worked in the Victorian state government. In the 1960s nobody would have batted an eyelid. In the 2010s it’s totally unacceptable.

So without further do… here are the first of the lyrics to the Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. So apt in so many ways, it’s a time warp, it’s a horror… and read the lyrics and think of auDA as you sing along…

(Riff Raff) It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll…

(Magenta) Ahh…

(Riff Raff) But listen closely…

(Magenta) Not for very much longer…

(Riff Raff) I've got to keep control.
I remember doing the Time Warp.
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me.

(Riff Raff & Magenta) And the void would be calling.

(Guests) Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Narrator) It's just a jump to the left.

(Guests) And then a step to the right.

(Guests) You bring your knees in tight.
But it's the pelvic thrust.
They really drive you insane.
Let's do the Time Warp again.
Let's do the Time Warp again.

(Magenta) It's so dreamy
Oh, fantasy free me
So you can't see me
No not at all.

In another dimension
With voyeuristic intention.
Well secluded I see all…

And the lyrics go on. To read the full lyrics, click here.