The end of auDA
By: Robert Kaay

The end of auDA

The Australian domain name governing body, auDA (Australian Domain Administration), has cleary shown today, that it has not only been broken since Chris Disspain was CEO (for 16 years, between 2000 and 2016), but still remains broken to this very day.
auDA describes itself as, "the policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space."
It's a sad day for Australian domain names.
To get you up to speed, perhaps you should start by reading today's Sydney Morning Herald article, Police Asked to Probe Spending at Web Agency.
In it, SMH Journalist, Adele Ferguson, details how ex-auDA Directors (while Chris Disspain was CEO), "racked up $3040 at top New York restaurant Wolfgang's Steakhouse in October 2014 and $3834 over three occasions at The Point in Albert Park in 2014, and a family trip to San Diego."
There were also, "AMEX charges of $1043 to Disneyland, $898 for accommodation at Californian amusement park Knott's Berry Farm Hotel and $8012 for flights for Paul Szyndler (auDA Director at the time) and his family."
Ms Ferguson says that when Mr Szyndler was queried on the AMEX expenses he wrote: "I got the okay... to do the 'usual thing' and make personal charges up to the value of the normal business ticket".
On an industry domainer-blog, Mr Szyndler posted an explanation of his actions late last night.

Included in his written response was:

"Earlier today, I was contacted by Adele Ferguson, a highly-regarded investigative journalist from Fairfax. She advised me that she will be publishing a story tomorrow (which may or may not happen) about the ongoing upheavals at auDA. She wanted to solicit comment from me. This, of course, piqued my interest."

He also noted:

"This was a shock - I had / have not seen anything."

He went on to say:

"The most serious accusation Ms Ferguson mentioned was that I took my family to Disneyland on the auDA dollar.

Guess what? I did.

auDA had a very clear and well understood policy at the time, whereby staff - after receiving best-available business class airfare and accommodation quotes, could spend up to, but NOT MORE THAN that figure on personal arrangements. As long as we arrived at meetings in a fit and ready state to represent the interests of .au in various fora, we could do what we wished with the arrangements.

My family joined me on a number of international trips. None cost any more than it would have cost to send me alone."

 Mr Szyndler then pointed out he was not the only one.

"I was not the only one - I had the opportunity to meet Vanessa Stanford's mother and Jo Lim's wonderful girls. My point is - this was a family-friendly policy that cost auDA and the average domain registrant no more than employee-only trips. 

Ms Ferguson also advised me that the supplementary documentation she was provided stated that I had "unfettered" access to an auDA credit card, that there was no accountability regarding my expenditures and that my expenditure was often equivalent to my annual salary. These are her words, not mine - as I still have no access to source materials. All of these accusations are false. Each and every month I had to explain and itemise every charge to my auDA card. To suggest otherwise is an obvious smear against my character.

I cut my teeth in the Australian Public Service, rigidly adhering to the APS Values and Code of Conduct. It is a practice that I transferred to my time at auDA. Currently, the APSC uses the "icare" acronym. Impartial. Committed to service. Accountable. Respectful. Ethical.

My greatest concern regarding the future of auDA and the .au space relates to that final value. How is it ethical, or even even productive, for someone within a very small grouping of people to leak this information to the media, and to do so with a specific focus on one auDA Member that has chosen to lend his voice to a Constitutionally-valid request for an SGM?

I have not worked for auDA (offically) for nearly a year and my last meaningful engagement was in September 2016. The trip to Disneyland? 2011.

I cast no aspersions as to who leaked this information, but it is certainly a serious leak. It is also an ad hominem attack where someone is "playing the man and not the ball".

I will be seeking further legal counsel. I am outraged and disappointed. I have aired my side of the story. I leave it to members and stakeholders to form their own views but I will happily discuss every element of this saga with anyone that seeks to make contact."

It was at this point the article was posted online by SMH, and Mr Szyndler went on to comment:
"Read in to it what you will.
Sources include internal auDA emails that no one outside of the organisation could have access to. My language was informal because - heck - it was "the usual thing" - and part of appropriate internal reporting! Add up the total costs and they are less than the quoted business class price.
Now, if I may get down off my crucifix for a moment - How is this relevant? I never defrauded the organisation nor stakeholders, so how is it a police matter? And who leaked it? What do they hope to achieve other than character assassination? How is ANY of this good for auDA or .au?
And he has a good point.
I don't see a positive on either side of this argument.
What sort of double standard was occuring, when auDA management were known at the time to rip domain names off businesses and domain name investors with one hand, judge, jury and executioner style, offering no refunds, whilst taking their own families to Disneyland with auDA funds on the other?
NameBid can confirm we have emails from disgruntled domain name owners of this period that suggest exactly that.
Assuming it's true that if we "add up the total costs and they are less than the quoted business class price", it seems clear that Chris Disspain, auDA CEO at the time, allowed this behaviour to occur in secret from the auDA members. One wonders how many years this occurred?
Now, back to Mr Szyndler's point about "Who leaked it? What do they hope to achieve other than character assassination? How is ANY of this good for auDA or .au?"
On exactly 24th March, 2016, auDA's General Manager of Communications at the time posted that the Board of auDA was ending the contract of CEO, Chris Disspain.
That was over two years ago.
A good question is, why has it taken auDA two years to inform members of this behaviour?
It should also be noted at this point that Chris Disspain is currently an active Board Member of ICANN.
There does seem to be some correlation between this second SGM (Special General Meeting) being called (within a year of the first SGM, in regards to auDA Members being unhappy with how auDA is being run) and the timing of the "leaking" of these documents by the new auDA board to the media (if that is what has happened?)
Mr Szyndler happens to be one of the three main signaturies who are currently calling for auDA members to vote on the following:

Resolution 1 - Vote of no confidence in Cameron Boardman (CEO)
Resolution 2 - Removal of Chris Leptos as a Director

From where I'm sitting, either way you look at it, from the past leadership of Chris Disspain, to the current leadership of Cameron Boardman, auDA appears to have fallen off the train tracks a long time ago, and has been sliding toward the end of a very high cliff ever since.

Today, the train just slid over the side.

Adele Ferguson wrote in her article, "It is understood (Communications Minister Mitch Fifield) will either call for a dismantling of auDA and replacement with a new multi stakeholder model or call for auDA to fix itself."

I'm not sure how anyone can invisiage Minister Mitch Fifield allowing auDA to continue in any sort of form after today?

And with that, how can the current PRP (auDA's self-appointed Policy Review Panel) be allowed to continue? The PRP was invented by auDA around five months ago to help discuss the possible implementation of Direct .AU Registrations.

This has noticably and publicly gone very badly, as we wrote about here: auDA's Policy Review Panel was always doomed.

And as mentioned by a resigning PRP Panel Member here.

By recently allowing current PRP Panel Member, Brett Fenton (CTO of Melbourne IT) to publicly call domain name investors and anyone who sells a domain name for more than $50 an "extortionist" and/or "cybersquatter" auDA made it clear to many members that they didn't hold the value and reputation of Australian domain names very highly at all.

Many members have complained for weeks to John Swinson (PRP Chair) and Cameron Boardman (auDA CEO) about Brett Fenton's public comments and how he should be removed from the PRP. I personally sent them both an email regarding this subject over a week ago. Yet, nothing has been done and many members have simply been ignored.

Is it any wonder we are reading about this catastrophe today?

We all know that Australian domain names are deemed critical infrastructure for Australian online business by the Australian Government, and rightfully so. Our .COM.AU domain names are incredibly important as the location of where an Australian business lives on the internet. Hence, why they are also deemed valuable digital real estate.

Small and large Australian businesses, corporations and domain name investors deserve better governance of our incredibly important Australian domain name space.

Ms Ferguson wrote in her article:

"A report commissioned in August 2016 by then newly-appointed chief executive Cameron Boardman found "systemic and persistent governance deficiencies".

They include inadequate policies and procedures in relation to travel and expenses, poor board processes and rigour in respect to key operational and financial decisions, insufficient financial management and oversight, a culture of mixing personal and business interests and improper behaviour by members of the management team.

The PPB report said governance failings included breakdowns in control, processes, oversight and culture.

"This appears to have been exacerbated by a close relationship between board and executive team members that allowed these issues to occur, along with a lack of internal audit function and avenue for employees to report inappropriate behaviour."

Minister Fifield; what will you do?

Further Info

Published: Tue, 17th Apr 2018 03:06
Author: Robert Kaay


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Last Update: 23-01-2021 12:09