Either auDA has been hacked or there has been a deliberate leaking of a confidential report by the senior echelons at the .au policy and regulatory body. If it’s the former, then auDA need to call in the relevant law enforcement bodies to investigate. If it’s the latter, it’s a sad state of affairs given auDA has turned into an organisation that could rival a former Soviet-style dictatorship in it’s efforts to hide documents from the industry and spin its “achievements”.
And assuming the confidential report by PPB Advisory was leaked, it’s a bizarre attempt to discredit those who have been calling for transparency and accountability at auDA, like it had pre-August 2016 when the current CEO commenced.
Interestingly Chris Leptos, the auDA Chair, is a Non-Executive Director of PPB Advisory and on his PPB profile there is no mention of his role as auDA Chair.
Leaking appears to be the most likely scenario as Domain Pulse understands the report received by Fairfax Media was full of annotations, comments and highlighter pen. Assuming the report was leaked, it would never have been done without the imprimatur of senior auDA staff and/or Board members.
And what was the big issue highlighted? It accuses former staff of… abiding by the rules. The report in today’s Fairfax Media newspapers was based on a confidential report that only auDA management, its board and those preparing the report, PPB, had access to. Its main issue appears to be accusations of “allegations of lavish spending and misuse of expense accounts by some former directors and employees.” But according to those named, and Directors Domain Pulse has spoken to, they were abiding by the rules set down by auDA at the time.
According to Fairfax, “spending detailed in the reports includes luxury accommodation such as $11,500 for a stay in Bali with a family member, meal expenses exceeding $1000 without receipts, credit cards used for cash withdrawals without supporting receipts, a butler service and family tickets to Disneyland.
“Staff also racked up $3040 at top New York restaurant Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in October 2014 and $3834 over three occasions at The Point, Albert Park in 2014 and a family trip to San Diego.”
But this isn’t rorts and snouts in the trough-style of the Liberal Party, which senior staff and Board members are closely linked. This was all done well within the guidelines set down by auDA at the time. Whether these rules have changed is not known.
So, on the face of it, it sounds pretty dire. But not when you delve deeper. Former general manager international and government affairs at auDA, Paul Szyndler, is named in the report. Szyndler says that it was all within the bounds of auDA travel policy. Because if a staffer was travelling more than 8 hours, business class travel for staff was the norm, as is the standard for Australian government travel. auDA guidelines allowed staff to take, say, family members with them if they flew in a lower class as long as they didn’t spend over the business class flight limit.
Szyndler, who is also one of the 3 behind the Grumpier.com.au campaign, writes on the DNTrade forum in response to the then upcoming article that “as long as we arrived at meetings in a fit and ready state to represent the interests of .au in various fora, we could do what we wished with the arrangements.”
As reported in Fairfax Media, “the PPB audit found that given the lack of transparent and robust travel policies at the time, these expenses did not contravene the policy, however appeared to benefit staff in contravention of the constitution.”
It all comes as the Australian government is about to release a report that could either call for the “dismantling of auDA and replacement with a new multi stakeholder model or call for auDA to fix itself.”
The dirty tricks campaign being waged by auDA comes after Szyndler, former long-term Board member Josh Rowe and industry participant Jim Stewart formed the Grumpier.com.au campaign that is seeking a Special General Meeting that is calling for the removal of the organisation’s 3 independent Directors including Chair Chris Leptos and a vote of no-confidence in CEO Cameron Boardman.
And it’s not just the leaking of documents that are part if auDA’s dirty tricks campaign. Rowe writes on his blog that “auDA CEO, Cameron Boardman, contacted an auDA Member who had signed the petition. The late night call left the Member feeling threatened and concerned after being questioned as to why they had signed the petition for the SGM.”
The Grumpier.com.au campaign has a number of issues they are concerned about. In short, they are the implementation process of direct, or second level, registrations, communication and transparency and good governance. Australia’s country code top level domain (ccTLD) manager has less than a week to respond to the notification of the calling for an SGM.
The request for the SGM was sent on 7 April and they have 21 days to respond and 2 months to call the SGM. To date the only response is a rather threatening letter from auDA’s lawyers saying “auDA is considering the assertions made regarding the organisation and several of its directors and officers at grumpier.com.au.” The letter goes on to say that Grumpier.com.au is “on notice that any false, misleading, defamatory or otherwise unlawful statement which you make regarding auDA, or any of its directors or officers, is likely to result to result in damage to the organisation and/or relevant individuals and may result in litigation against you personally.”
* Domain Pulse welcomes comments from auDA re any of the above issues. As per previous correspondence with auDA they have advised they “don’t usually reply to requests for blog stories” and have refused previous requests for comment.
* 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.