auDA loses in Federal Court

In a disgraceful waste of tens of thousands of dollars of .au domain name registrant’s money, auDA took me, one of the “Grumpier.com.au three” and a former auDA Non Executive Director, to the Federal Court yesterday, and in effect lost.

Here is my letter to the court.

The Hon Justice Middleton
Federal Court of Australia
305 William Street Melbourne Victoria 3000

RE: auDA – special general meeting – extension of time application

BY EMAIL

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide a submission to auDA’s application. Whilst I am surprised to be named the sole respondent to auDA’s application, I appreciate this opportunity. I am one of three auDA Members who started the process of gathering auDA Members’ support to requisition a meeting of auDA’s Members, and I am one of 27 auDA members (comprising more than 8% of auDA’s total Membership) who ultimately petitioned auDA to call an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the members.

In writing this letter I do not seek to represent all the petitioners; but I believe that they share some if not most of the views I express here.

I do not agree with auDA’s request to extend the time for the EGM, for the reasons I outline below.

As an individual in the Australian Internet community I do not have access to funds for legal representation for this hearing. I believe this to be the case for other petitioners, who have simply exercised the rights granted to them under the Corporations Act, as a last resort.

Unfortunately, and with respect, I am unable to attend the hearing in person. My understanding is that I am not required to attend.

Background

I have been involved in the Australian Internet community since the inception of auDA. I was an elected Non Executive Director of auDA from 2001 to 2015, and I have been a Member since 2000.

I am interested that auDA continues to be an effective organisation which holds the endorsement of the Australian Government to manage .au in the interests of the Australian community. I am involved in the calling of the EGM because I believe auDA occupies a vitally important role. I do not have any other motive, and I have no ambition to return to the auDA board or management.

Multi stakeholder

The Australian Government is a major proponent for the multi-stakeholer model of Internet governance. Until 2016 auDA had been highly regarded internationally as an exemplar of multi-stakeholder Internet governance at its best.

As the US Assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, Lawrence E. Strickling said, “The multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance is the best mechanism for maintaining an open, resilient, and secure Internet because, among other things, it is informed by a broad foundation of interested parties – including businesses, technical experts, civil society, and governments – arriving at consensus through a bottom- up process regarding policies affecting the underlying functioning of the Internet domain system.”

Recent developments

As the Australian Government’s April 2018 Review of the .au Domain Administration (referred to in auDA’s submission) found, since 2016 there has been a deterioration of auDA’s transparency and accountability to its stakeholders leading to a weakening of auDA’s multi-stakeholder engagement.

The Australian Government’s Review (p18) noted that “the issue of Board stacking is of particular concern. This would suggest a manipulation of process to place directors on the Board to act in the interest of a particular membership faction, rather than in the interests of the organisation as a whole or the Australian Internet community.”

Need for EGM

I recognise that auDA is at an important juncture. It needs to put in place a new governance and management structure within a short period of time in order to satisfy the Australian Government. In my view, which I believe is shared by some Members, the current leadership and management does not enjoy the confidence of the auDA Membership to be able to successfully lead these critical reforms. In my view, the relationship and trust between the current auDA leadership and management, and auDA’s Members, is broken, borne by developments over the past two years.

I believe that it is critically important that auDA Members are given an opportunity to be heard, and to decide, whether it is content for the current leadership and management to lead auDA through these important reforms, or to put in place an alternate team that they believe would be better equipped to do so.

Extending the time for holding of the EGM would be to deny Members of a timely and effective voice that will impact on auDA’s ability to meet all the requirements of the Australian Government’s terms of endorsement, within the tight timeframe stipulated by the Australian Government.

In the current climate where I (which I believe is shared by other Members) am of the view that current leadership and management’s accountability to its Members is lacking, the calling of a Members meeting seems to be the only option available to Members where they can have a voice.

In auDA’s submission it has alluded to a number of reasons why an EGM should not be held within the time set out in the Corporations Act. In my humble opinion, those reasons ought to be put to the Members at the EGM to enable the Members to have an informed view and to decide whether or not to support the proposed resolutions.

Costs

auDA has claimed the costs of calling an EGM will be in the vicinity of $70,000. In my experience while I was a Non Executive Director of auDA we used the facilities of our law firm to hold Member meetings at negligible cost. I acknowledge that there may be some travel costs for the attendance of directors based outside of Victoria, but that ought not be a valid reason for delaying the EGM.

I am disappointed that auDA would prefer to use Member funds to incur costs associated with this application rather than hear the voices of Members at an EGM.

Yours faithfully.

Joshua Rowe

Joshua Rowe
auDA Member 2000 – current
auDA Non Executive Director 2001 – 2015

 

auDA: play the ball not the man

Last week Jim Stewart, Paul Szyndler, and myself secured more than double the required votes for a Special General Meeting (SGM) of .au Domain Administration Ltd (auDA). auDA is the self-regulatory body for the .au domain name space.

At the proposed SGM, auDA Members will vote on the following resolutions:

  1. Vote of no confidence in Cameron Boardman (CEO)
  2. Removal of Chris Leptos as a Director
  3. Removal of Sandra Hook as a Director
  4. Removal of Suzanne Ewart as a Director

The key issues as to why auDA Members have supported the calling of an SGM are:

  • Direct Registration of .au domain names. Some people are for direct .au domain name registration, and some are against. A business case has been promised by auDA, but not delivered. Then there are the multitudes of registrants that wouldn’t even know it is on the horizon, because auDA hasn’t directly told them of the possibility; and how and why it would work if it was implemented.
  • Communication and Transparency. Since the July 2017 SGM, no lessons have been learnt – auDA continues to exhibit poor communication. There is a lack of transparency about what is actually happening. There is a “whispering campaign” in place to discredit some past staff and management.
  • Good Governance. Why has the auDA board allowed Demand Class members to be under-represented since November 2017? That’s contrary to the auDA Constitution.

Many more issues have been raised.

auDA’s response

Initially 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.

Then auDA Chair, Chris Leptos AM, wrote to Members to report on his “achievements”. The set of dot points did nothing to allay the concerns raised by Members for the SGM. Leptos went on to point the big innuendo stick at all 48 past .au Domain Administration Ltd. directors in a heinous act.

Someone leaked the auDA confidential, PPB advisory report to the media. The unfair targeting of Paul Szyndler is abhorrent. This behaviour is something that you’d expect from a political party, not those associated with regulating the .au domain name space.

auDA: play the ball not the man

For all of the leadership at auDA, play the ball and not the man. The SGM outlines serious issues which must be addressed. Playing the blame game is not constructive.

Further reading

White anting “auDA” control

White ants can wreak significant damage on your home without you even realising that they are at work. They quietly go about their work, undermining your foundations, attacking your walls, leaving a trail of destruction in their path, until only the shell of the original structure remains.

White anting out of control

Human white anting is a form of sabotage which is so subtle, it can be difficult to identify or expose. It is a covert form of bullying that aims to undermine or discredit the achievements and influence of another.

White anting might include spreading rumours and false information.

I have personally been the subject of a smear campaign from senior figures in the Australian domain name industry.

Confidential auDA board information has been leaked to third parties

The inferences made by a third party are grossly inaccurate, defamatory, and reveal privileged information known only by auDA.

Most importantly I have done nothing wrong, and at no stage has auDA or any other party made an official enquiry or complaint to me.

Therefore,

auDA Chair Chris Leptos AM, auDA Deputy Chair Erhan Karabardak, and auDA CEO Cameron Boardman:

Put up or shut up.

 

Josh Rowe

auDA Non Executive Director 2001-2015

auDA Member

 

Direct .AU registrations – where’s the business case Cameron Boardman?

Why do I care about this issue?

I was a non executive director of auDA from 2001-2015.

The .au domain name space is well established, and understood by organisations and Internet users.

There is significant value in the existing .au brand hierarchy. NetRegistry describes “com.au” as:

The most recognisable Australian domain name

I’m quite open minded about being able to be convinced there is a need for direct .au domain registrations, but the issue is, no quantitative business case has been put forward.

Is this a cash grab?

I am concerned that the primary focus of introducing direct .au domain registrations is to:

  • increase revenue for auDA (they receive a domain name fee for every .au domain name sold),
  • increase revenue for domain name retailers, and
  • increase revenue for domain legal service providers.

However, the expense appears to be borne by organisations.

There’s been no clear business case made for the expansion of the .au domain name space, and it’s not like ‘.com.au’ names are running out.

Where is the quantitative business case?

At the 2016 auDA AGM, auDA CEO Cameron Boardman promised to commission a business case to determine the financial viability of opening up .au for direct registrations.

Listen to Ned O’Meara’s question, and Cameron Boardman’s response at the 2016 auDA AGM which is available here (2nd clip).

The Deloitte Access Economics Report (which is not a business case) commissioned by auDA recommended that:

A more quantitative analysis of the costs and benefits should also be
undertaken. Any modelling of costs and benefits should give proper
consider to their distribution. If the benefit of the proposal is concentrated
to a handful of individuals or businesses, or the cost is disproportionally
borne a small subset of the industry, the proposal may be inappropriate
even if the total benefits exceed the total cost because of equity
considerations.

Cameron Boardman, CEO of auDA:

When will auDA members, Internet users, and organisations be able to read this critical missing quantitative business case?

More reading on direct .AU registrations

auDA Board Members – Chair: Chris Leptos AM, Deputy Chair: Erhan Karabardak
14 March 2018. Demand Class Director Vacant.
In other words, domain sellers “Supply” out vote domain buyers “Demand” on the board.

auDA 2017 Policy Review Panel
27 September 2017 – current. NO Peak business body representative!!!

Stop .AU it’s a cash grab that will hurt business
Change.org petition. 12 March 2018

Reddit/r/australia discuss The Business ABC story
12 March 2018

New internet domain names for Australia have been slammed as a tax on business
The Business, ABC News. Story by Dan Ziffer. 12 March 2018

Direct AU Registrations
Brand Builders. Jim Stewart & Josh Rowe. 6 March 2018

Brands voice objections to top level .au domain introduction
Mumbrella. Story by Paul Wallbank. 5 March 2018

$300m .AU domain name tax on businesses
Threaded discussion on LinkedIn. 1 March 2018

Ed Husic demands government sorts out concerns over “.au” domain introduction “quick smart”
Smart Company. Story by Emma Koehn. 1 March 2018

Australian Government House of Representatives Hansard
Speaker Ed Husic MP. 26 February 2018

“A load of bollocks”: SMEs demand answers from auDA over introduction of new “.au” domain names
Smart Company. Story by Emma Koehn. 21 February 2018

Is .com.au Dead?
PowerRetail. Story Natasha Sholl. 21 February 2018

Small businesses face expensive fights for “.au” web addresses as experts sound warning over new domain changes
Smart Company. Story by Emma Koehn. 20 February 2018

Millions of Australian domain name owners ‘ripped off’
Sydney Morning Herald. Story by Cara Waters. 8 August 2017

2015 Names Policy Panel
February 2015 – December 2015

REA Group Response to 2015 auDA Names Policy Panel
30 September 2015

CarSales Ltd Response to 2015 auDA Names Policy Panel
September 2015

John Swinson Response to 2015 Names Policy Panel
30 May 2015

Australia registers more .au than .com domains
auDA 2007 Names Policy Panel Submission by Josh Rowe. 15 June 2007

 

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Our main business email address is hello@(domain-name).

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