The operation of the .au ccTLD began in 1986 with the delegation of .au administration to Robert Elz of the University of Melbourne by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Elz devised the second-level domain (2LD) name structure, including .com.au, .net.au, .edu.au and .org.au, and introduced policies concerning eligibility for these domains. These policies included reserving the .com.au 2LD for registered commercial entities trading in Australia, and only being able to register a domain that closely aligned with a registrant’s commercial name. Elz was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the .au ccTLD with all services provided free. By 1996, as businesses realised the commercial potential of the Internet, management of registrations became too great a job for Elz to accomplish by himself. Elz licensed the .com.au 2LD operation exclusively to Melbourne IT, the commercial arm of the University of Melbourne, for a term of five years.
Unlike Elz who had not charged for domain services, Melbourne IT ran domain registration on a for-profit basis, charging between $125–150 per year for registrations. Melbourne IT intended to remove the registration of pre-existing .com.au names whose owners had not paid registration fees by March 1997. This prompted ISP iiNet to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of .com.au domain holders. iiNet withdrew this action when Melbourne IT assured them it would not remove existing domains until at least October 1997, when competition in the .com.au administration was expected to exist.
However, disenchantment in the way the .au domain was run persisted, leading to demand for a single regulatory body to oversee the namespace.
See .oz for the early history of .oz.au.
In recognition of the deteriorating state of .au, the Australian Internet community - primarily through several key industry associations and personalities - held a series of forums to work out a way forward. The result of this period of collaboration was the establishment in June 1997 of a new policy development body called Australian Domain Name Administration, or ADNA tasked with taking control of .au and operating the domain space for the public good.
ADNA, however, was marked by internal conflicts. After two years of internal struggles, ADNA was renamed .au Domain Administration (auDA) and adopted a new constitution, procedures, and board. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts set objectives for the new auDA board to reach in order for the new entity to gain endorsement as an industry self-regulatory body, endorsement achieved in December 2000.
The inaugural board of the new organisation was elected in April 1999, and began the task of trying to help mould a new framework of policies for the .au domain space. As part of the process, the organisation obtained a reassignment of management of the .au domain space from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which had absorbed the responsibility for global root domain administration from IANA. This was the first formal agreement ICANN ever signed with a ccTLD operator. With the endorsement of the Australian Government and ICANN, auDA became the recognised ccTLD body for the .au domain space.
auDA undertook reviews into .au domain policies. These reviews utilised experts from relevant fields to consider public and stakeholder submissions and feedback and devise policies. Key auDA panels that shaped the current .au landscape include the Name Policy Advisory Panel of 2000, and the Competition Model Advisory Panel of 2000. The latter concluded that the .au domain space should be as open as possible, with competition at both the domain name registry and the domain name registrar levels. The Name Policy Advisory Panel resulted in naming policy remaining mostly unchanged, with the exception of the .id.au sub-domain which was liberalised.
In 2001, as a result of the Competition Model Advisory Panel’s report, the operation of five key .au registries - .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au and .id.au was put to tender. The winning bidder(s) were to operate the registry for four years. One bid, encompassing all five registries, from AusRegistry won.
The new regime of competition and name policy began on July 1, 2002, with AusRegistry as the new domain name registry operator with 282,632 domain names under management. The new domain environment saw an increase in registrations, growing by over 3,000 domains in the first month of operations. Further liberalisation of domain policies over the next few years, including the abolition of limits on the number of domains owned and removal of rules banning the registration of generic domains (such as flowers.com.au) saw the total domains under management grow to 710,428 by June 2006 – a growth of 252% in four years.
By January 2017, there were more than 3 million .au domains under the management of AusRegistry, with the .au domain space enjoying a trusted reputation among domains in Australia.
auDA is the policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space, charged with managing and maintaining a secure and stable domain name system. It achieves this through its main functions including: the development and implementation of domain name policy in the .au domain space, the licensing of 2LD registry operators, the accreditation and licensing of registrars and facilitating .au dispute resolutions.
Through its sponsorship agreement with ICANN, auDA represents .au at ICANN meetings and other international fora, and is also responsible for the management of the .au domain name system zone file. The zone file is a text file which contains every domain registered in the .au domain space and contains the information required to resolve domain names to their correct IP address.
auDA also oversees and deploys new technologies and initiatives in the .au name space, which includes Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) auDA’s own Information Security Standard (ISS).
Informed by the original domain eligibility criteria developed by Robert Elz, auDA has maintained a policy of requiring registrants to have either an exact match or a “close and substantial connection” to their desired domain name. This “policy rich” approach to the name space, begun by Elz and continued by auDA, has meant the .au domain space has avoided the cybersquatting and other illicit uses of domains prevalent in other more permissive domains.
In 2016, the auDA board announced its decision to introduce direct registrations in .au – for example “yourname.au” — after the submission of the final report of the 2015 Names Policy Panel. This follows on from the introduction of direct registration in the .uk and .nz domain spaces. Direct registration is due to be implemented in 2017.
auDA is responsible for handling complaints and reducing fraud in domain name registration. This responsibility includes complaints regarding .au domain names, referred to as domain complaints and complaints concerning .au registrars and resellers, known as industry complaints. This responsibility does not extend to complaints about the content or use of websites which may be handled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a state or territory fair trading office, or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, depending on the nature and content of the complaint.
Domain complaints may relate to registrant eligibility — such as whether registrants meet the ‘close and substantial connection’ rule for domain eligibility — transfers, prohibited misspellings or other breaches of domain name licence terms and conditions. Industry complaints may relate to the management or services provided by an auDA accredited registrar, breaches of auDA codes of practice or other policies. In some cases, this has involved legal action.
Membership is open to all stakeholders of the Australian domain system. Members are entitled to vote at General Meetings of auDA and to nominate and elect representatives to the board of directors.
The board is ultimately responsible for directing the organisation, and is selected through a vote of its members in two distinct categories:Supply class members (companies that sell domain names or related services, such as registry operators, registrars and resellers)
Demand class members representing domain name holders, Internet users and the general public
These two groups each have half of the contestable board positions (four each), with up to three independent directors appointed by the elected directors. These independent directors must not otherwise be associated with auDA, the registry operator or any registrar. This breakdown is aimed at providing a broad balance of opinion to the board from different sectors of the local Internet and the wider community.
The current chairman is Stuart Benjamin, an independent board member with a background in regional development across Victoria.
auDA's Chief Executive Officer is Cameron Boardman, who joined auDA in August 2016. He has previously worked in the Victorian Department of Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, and was chief architect of the Victorian Government’s cybersecurity initiatives.
Chris Disspain, who served as auDA CEO from 2000–2016, currently serves on the ICANN board of directors..asn.au – For non-commercial organisations. Includes associations incorporated in any Australian State or Territory, political parties, trade unions, sporting or special interest clubs, charities or non-profit organisations.
.com.au – For commercial purposes. Includes commercial entities, currently registered and trading in Australia, as well as commercial products and services.
.id.au – For Australian individuals (citizens, residents).
.net.au – For commercial purposes. Includes commercial entities, currently registered and trading in Australia, as well as commercial products and services.
.org.au – For non-commercial organisations. Includes associations incorporated in any Australian State or Territory, political parties, trade unions, sporting or special interest clubs, charities or non-profit organisations.
.edu.au – For educational and training institutions, managed on behalf of auDA by Education Services Australia.
.gov.au – For Australian Federal, State, Territory and Local government entities. Managed by the Digital Transformation Agency.
.csiro.au – For the sole use of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), managed by CSIRO.