Hundreds of people from outside Australia have joined as members of auDA in recent weeks who have no demonstrated link to the future wellbeing of the .au policy and regulatory body. Apart that is from ensuring their employer will be able to direct them to vote as they see fit when required.
The mass sign-up pre-empted a move from auDA members last week to oust 3 of the organisation’s independent directors, a move which failed. Had the vote succeeded, victory would have likely only been temporary as auDA would have been able to corral the new members through their employers to in effect reverse decisions at future meetings. Going forward, the current auDA management has a blank cheque to do as it pleases and ram through changes that will include lessening the input of members on the membership-based organisation.
Last week’s special general meeting initiated by “demand” members failed to get up, not because the total votes in favour of removing the directors failed, but because there wasn’t a majority of votes in supply and demand classes. Under auDA’s constitution there are 2 classes of membership – “supply” which is for the Registry Operator, auDA accredited Registrars and Resellers while “demand” is everyone else including employees of supply organisations.
At last year’s SGM, which successfully led to the resignation of then Chair Stuart Benjamin, the requirement as per Section 203D of the Corporations Act was for a simple majority of votes. But auDA changed the rules from last year’s SGM to this year’s. At last week’s SGM auDA invented new rules that required a majority of members in both supply and demand classes clearly violating the Corporations Act.
Of the new members that auDA has managed to amazingly recruit, an analysis by former auDA director Josh Rowe found 527, or 39.2%, are related to Dreamscape Networks, better known for their Crazy Domains brand, Arq Group (better known for their Melbourne IT and NetRegistry brands) accounts for 15.0%, Afilias (who commenced as the registry operator on 1 July) accounts for 12.0% and VentraIP (2.8%). Today around 70% of members in demand class have a connection to these 4 companies and will be expected or encouraged to vote as their employer desires. But due to requirements on how long an auDA member must be a paid-up member, none of these people were able to vote at last week’s SGM. However they will be able to vote come the Annual General Meeting due by the end of the year.
The jump of 955 members in one day was nothing short of miraculous. In recent years member numbers have hovered around the 300 to 350 mark. Applicants have previously complained of obtrusive questioning about why they wanted to join the .au country code top level domain (ccTLD) manager and Domain Pulse is aware of at least 2 people for whom the application process spanned 5 meetings, a period that could be anything from 5 to 8 months. Domain Pulse is also aware of around 160 of the new members using the same email address, which is one provided by their employer.
At the SGM, demand members that voted voted overwhelmingly in favour of removing the independent directors with 56 voting to remove each director and 2 against out of a total of 267 eligible members. For supply members, several of whom have previously spoken off-the-record to Domain Pulse complaining about the way auDA had conducted the registry transformation project, they voted overwhelmingly the other way with only 1 or 2 voting to remove each director while 30 or 31 voted against out of a total of 50.
The meeting also saw founder and former CEO of AusRegistry, which has been owned by Neustar since July 2015, Adrian Kinderis kicked out of the meeting. Kinderis was escorted out by security within minutes of the meeting starting. AusRegistry won the contract to provide registry services for .au in 2002 and operated it until 30 June 2018 after Afilias won the contract in the controversial tender process.
In a series of Tweets, Kinderis notes how he was “unlawfully asked to leave” the meeting even though he “had a duly and properly completed proxy on behalf of a company I am a legal director of. I had every right to be in attendance and vote according to @auda constitution. I have been unlawfully removed from the meeting.” Referring to the unlawful removal, Kinderis explained it was “with respect to auDA’s constitution and proxy voting processes. Either way, as a member and Australian internet user anyone should be allowed to attend regardless.”
AuDA is now demanding members dutifully fall into line. In a statement after the meeting concluded, auDA said “it is time now for all members to get behind the reform of auDA as demanded by the federal government. auDA is not the plaything of a small group of self-interested parties.” In this they’re right. But it’s also not the plaything of a small group of self-interested people.
As it stands now, auDA has had 2 years of silencing members and pushing out the directors that questioned management practices and who tried to engage members while members demanding auDA be a transparent and accountable organisation have been silenced. Anyone wishing to challenge auDA these days is in effect left with court action as their only means. And no member has pockets deep enough to compete.