With debate continuing over Australia’s domain names registration arrangements, the company appointed by the federal government to oversee the process has added three highly qualified new directors to its board.
As I wrote recently .au Domain Administration Limited, commonly known as auDA, has been mired in controversy for some years – with chairs toppled amid boardroom and member machinations and a group of former directors and members now seeking to dislodge the current administration.
The federal government has given the company three months to prove it has improved governance processes in place. Last week auDA appointed three new directors to the board. The vacant roles were advertised across a broad range of stakeholder groups with 30 high‑calibre nominations being received.
According to auDA chair, Chris Leptos AM, “the short-listed candidates participated in a series of interviews, reference checking, and probity checking (ASIC, police, professional). Importantly, the whole board participated in a skills‑matrix analysis to identify the optimal skills and experience for the new directors”.
Leptos believes that with an expanded board auDA is in a good position to deliver the outcomes required by the Government. The three new directors were announced in a letter to members, along with a description of the skills the board believes they bring to auDA.
Nigel Phair: One of Australia’s leading experts in cyber‑security, cyber‑crime, and cyber‑ethics. Nigel has been a demand class member since February 2018. His term expires at the 2019 AGM.
Holly Raiche: Widely acknowledged as a leader in internet governance and in multi-stakeholder consultations. Holly has been a demand class member since April 2012. Her term expires at the 2019 AGM.
Damian Smith: A successful digital business leader and entrepreneur. Damian has applied to become a demand class member. His term expires at the 2018 AGM.
At a time when auDA is under such intense government scrutiny Leptos and CEO Cameron Boardman are under attack from a dissident member group. The group includes former auDA director Josh Rowe and former auDA staff member Paul Szyndler. They’ve created a blog site called “Grumpier” and called for the removal of three board members – chairman Leptos and directors Sandra Hook and Suzanne Ewart.
The word in the industry is the ‘grumpies’ don’t have the numbers to cause the board spill they are seeking. However, their activities can only add difficulty to the task of auDA meeting the Government’s demands for stability and reform.
The auDA membership structure, which is currently under review as part of the reform process, leaves the organisation exposed to member stacking. The New Daily recently revealed concerns within the Department of Communications and the Arts that auDA had been “subject to capture” in the past. There have been persistent rumours in recent years of vested interests within the small cohort of domain name vendors attempting to influence board decisions.
Shortly after assuming the chair’s role Leptos and the board referred an independent report on the group’s past financial and administrative practices to the police, with rumours now of possible criminal charges being considered.
Among the issues that have divided auDA members is a proposal to allow so-called direct registrations. This has occurred in other countries and would allow domain names that delete the descriptors dot-com, dot-org, dot-gov, etc. In what is presumably a move to separate this matter from that of the overall governance of auDA, Leptos has announced that it will not be further considered by the board until the second half of 2019 at the earliest.
auDA operates under a mandate from government. So the ultimate result of the continuing instability could see its role taken away. Not something likely to be enthusiastically embraced by industry or broader Internet communities I’d suggest.
The current brouhaha will come to a head at a special general meeting on 27 July 2018. Members will be asked to vote on a resolution to oust three independent directors – Leptos, Hook and Ewart.
auDA is a member-based organisation that employs a “multi-stakeholder” model as part of its governance arrangements. Such models have their strengths and their weaknesses. Right now we’re arguably seeing those weaknesses have their most damaging effect.
From my experience dealing with domain name owners and users in my former role as executive director of Internet Australia I’d suggest the dissidents are ill-advised to continue with their disruption, lest they increase the risk that auDA loses its much-valued autonomy. Even if the Government holds back from its threat to intervene, and possibly even have the public service take on the role now played by auDA, it is likely to look unfavourably on anyone seen to be working against its demand for an end to the past disunity.
Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and a former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is currently advising Afilias Australia, the company appointed to provide registry services for auDA from 1 July 2018.