Spotlight put on net governance

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The controversial group tasked with managing the .au internet domain is under scrutiny as part of an upcoming Federal review of governance arrangements.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced a review into the governance of the .au domain late last week, to “ensure it remains fit for purpose in serving the needs of Australians online”.

“The .au domain is an intrinsic part of the identity of many Australian businesses and organisations operating on the internet. Consumers visiting .au sites know they are Australian and are protected under Australian consumer laws,” Senator Fifield said.

The .au Domain Administration (auDA) is the organisation at the centre of this, operating and managing the framework of the domain after being launched in 2000.

“In that time, the digital landscape has changed significantly as the economy increasingly revolves around the internet,” Senator Fifield said.

The review would be conducted by the Communications department, and will make recommendations on the most appropriate future management of the .au domain, and how to ensure government and community expectations inform auDA’s operation and decision-making, and mitigation strategies to address future risks to its security and stability.

The government would release a discussion paper on the matter and seek public submissions on “best practice approaches and processes” for the management of the .au domain.

The review is expected to report back early next year.

It has been a turbulent last 12 months for auDA, starting with the resignation of its chair Tony Staley last year, who was a founding board member. His replacement, Stuart Benjamin, resigned in July this year in the lead up to a special general meeting where he was facing a vote of no confidence.

“Driving transition is hard for the board, it can sometimes be hard for staff and it’s clearly created concerns for some members,” Mr Benjamin said at the time.

Members of auDA had been disgruntled over the removal of board minutes from the organisation’s website, a new code of conduct that prevented them from criticising the group in public, and the decision to bring the running of .au in-house.

Several other board members have also recently resigned from auDA, which is now led by CEO Cameron Boardman.

The organisation has also ignited heated debate with a plan to reform the .com or .net part of a domain, making it just for example.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action network said this change would adversely impact local small businesses and make it more expensive to register a domain. auDA is currently seeking public submissions on this plan.

The current expectations for auDA, as set out in 2000, include operating as a fully self-funding and not-for-profit organisation, being inclusive and accountable to all Australians, promoting competition, establishing appropriate dispute resolution mechanisms and representing Australian internet industry interests in the internet domain name system.

Whether auDA is meeting these expectations, and whether the expectations themselves need changing, will be investigated with the government’s new review.

Interim auDA chair Erhan Karabardak said he welcomed the review.

“The .au domain is one of the most trusted domain zones in the world and we look forward to working with the government and Australian internet community to maintain and enhance that position,” Mr Karabardak said.

“It is critical that we have the best possible model for managing the domain, and that our risk and mitigation strategies are among the best in the world.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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