'Stakeholder' evaluation called for as auDA moves to implement direct registration

In a submission provided to a probe of its own operations, auDA has recommended that it restructure its business model in order to continue authority on the .au domain space.

The .au Domain Administration (auDA), the not-for-profit policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space, has suggested updating its business model in the face of a policy upgrade.

Writing in a submission to the Department of Communications, auDA said an evaluation of its current company structure, the nomination and selection process where board members or directors of auDA are concerned, and who it classifies as "stakeholders" need to be updated in order to continue operations appropriately.

According to auDA, a more transparent approach would facilitate a "clear focus" on achieving its purposes and result in auDA acting in the best interests of the internet community.

One such change would be to shuffle its board, resulting in the chair and a majority of directors being independent, and the potential for conflict of interest issues for sector-appointed directors therefore being reduced.

"The potential for misalignment between the pursuit of member interests and good governance principles would be diminished," auDA wrote in its submission [PDF].

"Under this model, auDA may be a 'Commonwealth company' for the purposes of the PGPA Act and subject to relevant requirements under that Act, depending on the rights of the Commonwealth in respect of auDA."

However, auDA would need to continue performing as an independent body so as to not let the internet be under government control.

As such, auDA wants to amend the constitution to allow the changes to its structure that currently bind the organisation to its existing operations, conceding doing so has the potential to become a "challenging process".

In particular, auDA wants to amend its constitution to establish that a majority of directors and the chair must be independent, and to reduce the number of Supply and Demand Class directors to two for each class.

Proposed amendments would see auDA comprise nine directors in total, including one director appointed by the Commonwealth; six directors appointed by a vote of the members; and two independent directors appointed by the board.

"There should be a higher degree of confidence that the board will have the right balance of skills and experience, given the increase in independent directors," auDA wrote. "The focus on the necessary skill and experience composition of the board in the appointment process should assist auDA to respond appropriately to market/technology changes, including cybersecurity."

However, auDA said it needs a boost in membership numbers to allow for, in this instance, a larger pool of candidates for the aforementioned board restructure.

The Department of Communications and the Arts opened its review into Australia's .au domain management in October and released a discussion paper a month later, seeking feedback on the appropriate framework for the management of the .au domain before its direct registration policy is implemented.

The review is being conducted to ensure the management framework of auDA remains fit for purpose.

The discussion paper sought recommendations in three key areas: The most appropriate framework for the management of the .au top level domain; how to ensure that government and community expectations inform auDA's operation and decision making; and mitigation strategies to address future risks to the security and stability of .au.

While those providing responses to the department had differing priorities, the common argument was that auDA needs to revisit its stakeholder engagement strategy.

According to Internet Australia, a not-for-profit body claiming to represent everyone who uses the internet in Australia, auDA's governance model should be broadened to "better reflect the very wide range of stakeholders who are now dependent upon the internet".

"The current auDA governance model is too narrow. It fails to include all stakeholders in its processes and decision-making commensurate with the scale and economic and social importance which the internet, and thereby the domain name system, has acquired," Internet Australia wrote in its submission [PDF].

"The involvement of consumers through their advocacy bodies, as well as businesses and government agencies, are poorly represented, if at all, either in the auDA governance structure or in other auDA processes. auDA should recognise its role -- and its broad responsibilities -- to all its stakeholders, in sustaining a critical piece of infrastructure for the Australian economy and security."

In 2015, the names policy panel released draft recommendations to allow Australian businesses and individuals to directly register domains in .au, which would mean domain names will sit directly under .au top-level domain.

In April 2016, auDA announced it would be following the recommendations by introducing .au direct registrations.

At the time, Derek Whitehead, auDA panel chair and adjunct professor at Swinburne University of Technology -- who also submitted his response [PDF] to the department's consultation -- said the main reason behind the panel's push for change was because they believe it would create more options.

Speaking with ZDNet in October, chair of the Policy Review Panel John Swinson said there are a number of issues that need careful consideration before the direct registration policy is implemented, such as whether priority should be given to existing domain name holders and how that priority should be determined.

An anonymous submission [PDF] to the department's discussion paper labelled the proposed direct registration a "cash grab" for registrars and said it will impose an unfair "tax" on businesses trying to protect its brand.

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