auDA: “Not the Plaything of a Small Group of Self-Interested Parties”

The much anticipated auDA Special General Meeting took place last Friday, with motions to remove the board unsuccessful. Although a majority 57 of the 109 members who participated in the SGM voted to remove auDA Chair Chris Leptos, and 58 voted to remove directors Suzanne Ewart and Sandra Hook, the auDA constitution requires a majority of votes in both member classes.

The demand class members include online retailers and businesses who register domain names as well as the general public. Seventy-eight of the 267 demand class members voted at the SGM, resulting in 70 percent in favour of shaking up the board. Supply class members include registry operators, registrars and resellers. There are just 50 supply class members in total. Of the 32 who voted on Friday, only three percent voted to remove Leptos and approximately six percent voted to remove directors Ewart and Hook.

The SGM was called in April, driven by outspoken dissenting member Jim Stewart, CEO of StewArt Media. At that time, Stewart called for CEO of auDA, Cameron Boardman, to resign immediately, rounding up five percent of the organisation’s membership in order to force the special general meeting: “Mr Boardman has provided industry with no business case for a major reform that is likely to have significant negative consequences and there has been very little consultation with industry to discuss this critical change.”

“This board and management have failed the country, they have let us all down and they must go,” Stewart said on Friday prior to the SGM. While Stewart was hoping for an overhaul in the “best interests of the Australian Internet Community” that was not what eventuated on at the SGM. “Although the resolutions were not passed on Friday, a majority of members voted for them. It was only because auDA changed the way it counted the votes since the last SGM  that the resolutions were not passed,” Stewart told Power Retail.

In response to the results of the SGM, auDA did not mince its words: “auDA is not the plaything of a small group of self-interested parties. It can no longer be run as a club type organisation with a small membership who wield undue influence,” it said in a statement.

“As one of the members who called the SGM, my issues were around lack of transparency and consultation with Australian Internet Community,” Jim Stewart told Power Retail today. “Personally I would be better off endorsing some of auDAs proposed changes as they would benefit my Digital Marketing business. My interest is ensuring auDA is moving in the right direction for the entire Internet Community.”

“I’m concerned for the future of auDA given the make up of membership now,” adds Stewart. “The SGM failed to answer a lot of the questions we asked on the day such as, how were 955 members added in June verified? I think the best thing people can do is to become auDA members and join the discussion.”

There have been many vocal opponents of the roll out of top level or .au domains, fearing that the change would cause sites to lose traffic and face the risk of cybersquatters. Experts claim that businesses may have to spend both time and money in order to retain the value of their domain name if .au is introduced, leading some to call it a ‘tax on businesses‘ and cash-grab from auDA. Yet the reality is that many retailers and e-commerce businesses weren’t even aware of the discussion in relation to domain changes, let alone the impact that any proposed changes may have.

CEO of auDA Cameron Boardman said at a press conference prior to the SGM that he plans to boost auDA’s profile with a $12 million marketing and innovation fund to be spent over the next four years. auDA has previously been accused of a lack of transparency, representation and objectivity as well as a failure to consult with appropriate stakeholders. The latest comments by Boardman do little to allay these fears.

So, where to from here? “As the government noted in its review auDA is no longer fit for purpose and must be reformed and it will be,” auDA said in its statement. “If the reform process is derailed by self-interested groups it is not just auDA that will suffer but the Australian community. The Board will continue to drive the reform agenda not out of self-interest, but in Australia’s interest.”

If the last year is anything to go by, this won’t be the last we hear from auDA or its dissenting members.

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