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AuDA board survive SGM

Motions to remove auDA chair Chris Leptos and two other independent directors from the board failed to pass on Friday after members voted at a special general meeting [SGM].

While 57 of the 109 members who participated in the SGM voted to remove Leptos, and 58 voted to remove directors Suzanne Ewart and Sandra Hook, the resolutions still failed pass due to auDA’s constitution, which requires a majority of votes in both member classes.

Of the 78 demand class members who voted in the SGM on Friday, more than 70 per cent voted to remove Leptos, Ewart and Hook. These members include businesses and others who register domain names, as well as the general public who use the internet. There are 267 demand class members in total.

However, of the 32 supply class members who voted in the SGM on Friday, only around 3 per cent voted to remove Leptos and around 6 per cent voted to remove Ewart and Hook. These members include registry operators, registrars and resellers. There are 50 supply class members in total.

Just over one third of auDA’s total membership participated in the SGM, with 109 of the total 317 members voting.

AuDA posted a statement on its website after the vote on Friday, saying it is time for members to get behind the reforms the organisation is introducing.

“auDA is not the plaything of a small group of self-interested parties,” the statement said.

“It can no longer be run as a club type organisation with a small membership who wield undue influence.”

Jim Stewart, SEO expert and auDA member who has been critical of the organisation, said the vote on Friday contradicts that characterisation.

“If one thing that came out of Friday, it’s [that auDA’s critics are] not a minority, [they are] a majority if you look at the numbers,” he told Internet Retailing.

A growing divide

Stewart was among those who called for the SGM in April as part of a last-ditch effort to delay the implementation of direct registration in Australia, which would allow people to register websites ending in .au, rather than

At the time, Stewart said auDA had failed to consult Australian businesses on the change and warned that it could result in businesses disappearing from Google searches, cybersquatters claiming desirable .au domains and holding them ransom, widespread confusion among consumers and internet users and potential security issues. Direct registration has been put off until the second half of 2019.

Since April, however, the dispute between auDA leadership and some members has grown into a fundamental disagreement about the way auDA is run and its purpose in the Australian domain space.

At a press conference on July 24, auDA’s chief executive Cameron Boardman said the organisation will no longer play a passive role, but rather actively grow and improve the Australian domain space, including investing $12 million in marketing and innovation over the next four years.

This has riled up some auDA members who believe the organisation should be run from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

AuDA member and registrar holder Anthony Peake, accused the organisation of ignoring “thousands of years of collective wisdom” in the membership in order to push through its own agenda behind closed doors.

Necessary reforms

For its part, auDA has said the changes it is introducing are necessary reforms, after the government issued a report in April, which found it was no longer fit for purpose.

“As the government noted in its review auDA is no longer fit for purpose and must be reformed and it will be,” auDA wrote in the statement posted on its website on Friday.

“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.”

Stewart, who runs an SEO consulting firm, noted that he actually has a lot to gain from the implementation of direct registration, since businesses will likely be in greater need of his services.

“Personally I have everything to gain from auDA putting its changes through. My point all along has been that [the changes are] fine if the community understands the impact of the changes,” Stewart said.

However, he believes that most businesses aren’t event aware that auDA exists, let alone the impact of the decisions they are making.

Influx of new members

Stewart is also concerned about a recent influx of hundreds of new auDA members, who he believes are primarily the employees of domain name sellers and other vendors based outside of Australia, including in Canada, the Ukraine and the Philippines.

“I believe we don’t have a diverse enough membership, but I can’t see how signing up employees of vendors makes it any more diverse,” Stewart said.

AuDA has defended the influx of new members as being in line with the government’s recommendation to diversify its membership, but Stewart said this is not the kind of diversity that auDA needs.

“I’d like to see [more participation from] Australian domain name holders, consumer organisations and not-for-profits …  real multi-stakeholder participation from everyone who has a vested interest in the Australian domain name space,” he said.

After the SGM on Friday failed to result in the removal of Leptos, Ewart and Hook, Stewart believes this is the only way to keep auDA in check.

“As far as mechanisms go, there’s not a lot we can do except keeping people aware and encouraging them to join. I’m not sure if there are any other avenues really,” he said.

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