Exclusive: Former auDA CEO Opens Up On What’s Gone Wrong at auDA

Ever since the auDA Board gave the then CEO Chris Disspain his marching orders in March 2016 after 16 years at the helm, the Australian ccTLD manager has been in turmoil. It’s not that any one person is indispensable. But rather a reflection of the dysfunction that has followed. With the Australian government’s scathing review of the management of Australia’s country code top level domain released this week, we asked the former CEO and now ICANN Vice-Chair what his thoughts were on the organisation, what could have been done better and where to now.

Domain Pulse: The Australian government review into auDA was released this week. What are your initial thoughts?

Chris Disspain: I’m not surprised by the content of the report. As I have said elsewhere, I’m pleased that the review has called out a number of important structural issues. I think the completion of the recommendations is the most likely way that .au can return to being run by a stable, open, transparent and accountable entity.

DP: What do you think should have been done differently, leading up to your departure and since?

CD: As reflected in the one piece of the PPB report that I know about, I acknowledge that our systems and processes could have been better. As the CEO, I accept responsibility for that.

That said, I am deeply disturbed that the existence of this report has been used in a grubby whispering campaign and that a leaked version of it has now been used to smear blameless members of previous auDA staff and Board.

No one has seen the report and no one has been given an opportunity to respond to anything in it if, indeed, there is anything in it that needs to be responded to.

DP: Where do you see the problems with auDA having started?

CD: A number of issues existed whilst I was still at auDA. Board tenure and also the membership stacking issue which arose towards the end of my time at auDA and I tried to fix. But many of the issues raised have only become issues since my departure, including the degeneration in transparency and accountability and the collapse of the relationship with members.

We ran a transparent organisation that was constantly talking to and listening to its members and other stakeholders (including the government) – it was truly multi-stakeholder. That didn’t mean that members and stakeholders always liked what we did or always agreed with us but it did mean that they were informed and properly involved in the decisions made.

I think that many of the issues called out in the report could have been solved if the organisation had not been captured by a number of people who didn’t understand the fundamental tenets of multi-stakeholderism and were intent on bolstering their political ambitions.

DP: And what of the future?

CD: The relationship between the current auDA leadership and its members and stakeholders may be irretrievably broken. For the greater good of .au it may be sensible for a new, interim, leadership to be established to shepherd auDA through the government’s recommendations bringing the members and stakeholders with them on the journey.

The machinations of the last 2 years have had a serious impact on the lives and wellbeing of the small dedicated team of people that made up the auDA staff. I hope that they too feel that this report is a first step to putting .au back where it should be as a well-respected ccTLD managed for the benefit of all Australians.

* Disclosure: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a supplier to auDA for 14 years and is now a supplier to Neustar providing online media monitoring services.