Today we have a guest post which explores the range of potential options available to the Federal Government in regard to the recently announced review into auDA.
The author is the vastly experienced and well qualified Paul Szyndler.
Paul worked at auDA for over 8 years mostly as General Manager of International and Government Affairs. He was also one of the 14 employees that were “managed out” by auDA over the last 18 months.
Before that, he spent a similar amount of time in Canberra with the Department of Communications, focussing on matters relating to .au, as well as the Australian Government’s engagement at ICANN and other forums.
auDA Government Review – by Paul Szyndler
When Ned asked me to write a guest post about the Australian Government’s recent announcement of a review into auDA, I was all-too happy to agree. The gamut of possible outcomes and what each could mean for the future of .au is something that I have been pondering for the last few days.
Before I start, I need to note that one of the key Terms of Reference announced by the Government states that the review will examine and make recommendations on: “how to ensure that Government and community expectations inform auDA’s operation and decision-making”.
So, the important pre-supposition here is that the goal of the process appears to be the reform and improvement of auDA, not its supplantation. Any estimations I make in this post are influenced by this assumption.
I’ve decided to list a range of possible scenarios, ranging from those requiring least action on behalf of the Government, to the most interventionist. For each, I have taken the liberty of including a few personal comments about likelihood and possible effects. I’d love to hear comments and views.
- Outcome: Nothing changes. The clear majority of respondents support the current management and oversight structure and the Government simply re-endorses auDA in accordance with the terms set out 17 years ago.
Likelihood: Nil. Not only are members and stakeholders dissatisfied with the status quo, but I suspect this is also true for auDA Board members. Also, although the Government has tactfully refrained from direct criticism of current arrangements, the initiation of a review itself suggests that they themselves hold some concerns.
- Outcome: Very little changes. auDA continues in its current form and function, with minor adjustments that are recommended by Government, implemented by auDA and subsequently endorsed.
Likelihood: Slightly more likely than Option 1. But it still seems like too little. Now that the Government has committed to active engagement, it needs to be shown to be delivering something and window-dressing would not be well received by many stakeholders.
- Outcome: auDA-led review. Numerous recommendations for change and “modernisation” (the Government’s terminology) are made and auDA is tasked by Government to undertake a major consultation process to “get its house in order” and report back on outcomes for final endorsement.
Likelihood: High. I say that because it satisfies two major stakeholders – the Government because it is seen to be initiating meaningful reform but not controlling the process and auDA precisely because it is able to retain control. It would also be a “good news story” for both to be able to draw together existing auDA Constitutional, policy, governance and (soon) membership-led reviews and provide them with an official stamp.
- Outcome: Government-facilitated review. Again, numerous recommendations for change are made, but this time the Government takes an active stewardship role in the consultation process and auDA is merely one stakeholder among many.
Likelihood: Moderate. Such an approach has a precedent – NOIE’s facilitation role in gathering and consulting stakeholders after the failed ADNA experiment, which eventually led to the creation of auDA. This would be my preferred outcome but I believe it is less likely given that auDA is already an established entity and the system is not being built from scratch.
- Outcome: Direct Government intervention – AKA the “Nuclear Option”. Stakeholder feedback is so universally negative that the Government either withdraws its endorsement or invokes its reserve powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997 and ACMA Act 2005. Either auDA or another entity is “declared” as a manager of electronic addressing and is subsequently directed by ACMA / ACCC regarding future actions.
Likelihood: Virtually Nil. I apologise to those that wish it so, but the Government has no taste for such interventionist action. It runs counter to the long-established multi-stakeholder model and governmental policy. Revocation of endorsement is a massive step and the powers enshrined in legislation are largely designed to address individual circumstances where auDA (or whoever) is directed to take or abstain from a particular action. The only way I could see this scenario playing out is if the review receives irrefutable evidence from stakeholders (or whistleblowers) of systemic failures and mis-management that has grievously damaged .au and harmed the interests of the Australian Internet community. Even then, the Government will need to be convinced it has no other course of action available to it.
So, how will this all play out?
First, don’t bother lodging a submission calling for a complete government take-over of .au. It won’t happen, and your considered opinion will end up in the shredder faster than you can say “Hilary’s mail server”. That is, of course, unless you have the “irrefutable evidence” I mentioned above. If the Nuclear Option is invoked it will be out of absolute necessity and I will mourn on the day that happens as it will signify the obliteration and fundamental failure of everything many of us put years of effort in to building.
However, as with any situation with a political dynamic, I expect the outcome to gravitate somewhere towards the middle. We will see either recommendations for reform that are implemented by auDA (with consultation), or a similar process that is facilitated by the Department of Communications and Arts.
My great fear is that the former will occur, while my preference is for the latter. To successfully move between these shades of gray, it will be vital for stakeholders to lodge reasoned and balanced submissions to the DoCA. These must eloquently highlight that, while the existing model can do with some refinement, much of the current uncertainty has largely been caused by the fractious leadership of the last 18 months.
Bringing all interested parties together in a consultation where auDA is an equal stakeholder among many is an appropriate and measured solution. But to run a similar process with auDA in charge would provide the organisation an opportunity to lock-in all the contentious changes they have proposed over the last 18 months. They could also strip out the elements that we still see as valuable in the current model, delivering a result that is not actually in the best interests of all Australian stakeholders.
The difference between the two scenarios may appear subtle on paper, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Looking forward to hearing your views.
Paul Szyndler – 25th October 2017