Govt review: auDA needs to fix its problems — or else

Government sees need for ‘urgent reforms’ to auDA

The government has called for significant changes to .au Domain Administration (auDA) — and says that in the absence of reform it will seek expressions of interest from other organisations for the management of Australia’s top-level .au domain.

Communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield said that there is a pressing need for reforms to auDA. In a statement he said the government expects to see “significant progress” from auDA in response to the recommendations of a review, which was released today.

The government in October launched the review of auDA, amid significant unrest within the organisation’s membership and a number of contentious proposals including the direct registration of .au domains. (Earlier this month auDA’s board wrote to members to say it had contacted Victoria Police regarding “a number of practices of several former auDA directors”.)

“auDA’s governance arrangements have not changed significantly since it was first established, with its structure and approach to governance set at a point in time when the internet and the domain industry was still in its infancy,” states the new report from the Department of Communications and the Arts.

The review found that auDA’s governance arrangements needed to change “if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community.”

A key finding is that “the current management and governance framework for auDA is no longer fit-for-purpose and that reform is necessary if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community”. The organisation’s membership model and board structure are contributing to “ongoing organisational instability.”

The organisation currently has two classes of members: Supply class (registry operators, registrars and resellers) and demand class (anyone else).

“Although Supply class members represent only 16 per cent of the membership, because each class has four directorships on the Board, their votes effectively carry more weight than Demand class members, and they stand a greater chance of being elected to the Board,” the review notes.

The review recommended that auDA shift to “a single member class or a functional constituency model and that membership reform is non-discriminatory and supported with transparent membership guidelines”.

auDA should work to diversify its member base, including focusing on extending membership to stakeholders that are underrepresented.

The board structure should be altered, with a majority of the board being independent of auDa’s membership and directors’ terms capped

The review recommended that auDA continue operating as a not-for-profit organisation and not seek to maximise profit.

In a letter to auDA independent chair Chris Leptos, Fifield said he expected a response from the organisation within 10 days to the review’s recommendations and to new terms of endorsement released today by the government.

“In the event that auDA fails to demonstrate progress in achieving the necessary reforms, I will instruct my Department to undertake a public expression of interest process in the future to identify other entities that could administer .au, consistent with the ToE,” Fifield wrote.

The full report is available online.