Plans to introduce “.au” domain registrations on hold as government forces auDA to overhaul processes

The organisation overseeing Australian web domain registrations will be forced to improve its decision-making processes if it wants to remain the country’s manager of web domains.

On Wednesday, the federal government released 29 recommendations off the back of its investigation into how Australian web addresses will be best managed in the future, after submissions to this inquiry took aim at the consultation and management processes of current domain registry authority auDA.

The review has prompted the chair of the domain registration authority auDA, Chris Leptos, to write to members of the organisation this morning to say its board will not be resuming consultation on its controversial “.au” domain name rollout until the second half of 2019 at the earliest.

Conflicts had been brewing over the organisation’s consultation process for months, with many small business stakeholders believing auDA’s plan to roll out a top level “.au” web address would cause havoc for businesses and brands that would have to stake a claim on new website domains.

Earlier this year, small businesses told SmartCompany rolling out “.au” domain addresses would be “really, really unfair”, because it would force some companies to enter contests to claim their equivalent “.au” address, and potentially affect search engine optimisation for their brands.

Others claimed the internal processes at auDA were the problem, because the organisation had not outlined a business case for why Australia needed new web addresses in the first place.

Minister for the Arts and Communications Senator Mitch Fifield launched a review of .au domain management last November, and submissions drew attention to what some stakeholders said were structural issues with how auDA made decisions.

For example, Internet Australia said in its submission the organisation’s “structures and processes are outdated and must be changed”, arguing that the current procedures for appointing the organisation’s board members are outdated.

Having reviewed the submissions, Senator Fifield has concluded auDA’s current management framework “is no longer fit for purpose”. The government’s report on the issue makes 29 recommendations to improve the organisation’s processes.

The government has issued a new term of endorsement for auDA to maintain its role managing Australian domains, provided it shows action on the recommendations in the next three to six months, Fifield said.

“These terms of endorsement outline the government’s expectations and provide auDA with the mandate to make the necessary reforms to its governance arrangements,” he said in a statement provided to SmartCompany.

In response to the report, auDA says it welcomes the recommendations and has begun implementing them.

“A number of issues identified had been raised in two governance reviews issued by the current CEO and the board,” auDA chief executive Cameron Boardman said in a statement.

Calling the internet “namespace” a “vibrant public asset”, the organisation said it would come to the table to make the changes needed to act “in the best interests of Australia’s 21 million internet users”.

Transparency and stakeholder engagement key

The recommendations will force auDA to change the way it elects members to its board and how it explains its decision-making and policy work to the community.

“Directors can be elected to the board with little regard to the skills required to effectively govern a modern domain administrator,” the government’s report found.

This finding means the organisation must overhaul its board recruitment process to allow for new members must be vetted by a committee of consumers, business stakeholders, auDA members and a representative from the federal Department of Communications.

Meanwhile, auDA must also publish a stakeholder engagement strategy to “articulate how it will engage with stakeholders in all levels of operation and decision making”, and to report on its performance in this area.

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