28 October, 2022

E&OE. Check against delivery. 

Opening remarks from auDA CEO Rosemary Sinclair AM at NetThing 2022, Day 2, on the importance of multi-stakeholder internet governance. 

I am delighted to be able to share some thoughts at NetThing, our very own Australian Internet Governance Forum. How the internet is governed in Australia and globally is of great interest to all of us because the internet is embedded in our daily lives, and so this forum is an important one. Before getting into it, I want to take a moment or two to update those who are unfamiliar, with who auDA is and what it is that we do. 

About auDA

auDA’s purpose is to administer a trusted .au for the benefit of all Australians, and champion an open, free, secure and global Internet. Our vision is to unlock positive social and economic value for Australians through an open, free, secure and global internet. In summary, we do what we do every day to benefit Australians and internet users.

We have three key focus areas at the heart of our strategy – trust, innovation and multi-stakeholder engagement. It is the multi-stakeholder part that I wish to speak about today, and its importance in the current geopolitical environment and what we can all do together to ensure our interests are represented strongly.

Multi-stakeholder engagement

The internet’s governance is often spoken of as being a multi-stakeholder process. This means that at every level of policymaking, the key stakeholders are all in the room, and all have a real say in how policy is made. In essence it means governments do not have a louder voice or more say than other members of the community, technical specialists, industry and academia. It means that the various needs, ideas and challenges of all these groups are woven together to build the internet. That’s the governance approach that has led to the internet being such a positive force for so many people all around the world.

But there is pressure from some countries for a different internet – one that is more centrally controlled, less open and free; and as a result, reduced in its capacity to be a vehicle for connection, convenience, innovation and growth. Those countries want to change the internet’s governance model to one that is more dominated by governments, and less influenced by the other multi-stakeholder participants.This is contrary to the goals of many and certainly to supporters of the multi-stakeholder model, a great example being the NetThing and everyone tuned in today.

The governance structure of the internet and the outcomes that it delivers are connected. Without multi-stakeholder governance, the internet will change – for the worse. It would be less free, less open, and less able to evolve. Less able to deliver the social and economic value that we all hold dear. That is why auDA is such a strong supporter of multi-stakeholder based governance. Today I’d like to talk a bit more about the global picture, and then about auDA’s contribution, and finally about why NetThing is so important.

The global picture: big challenges to the model

Ever since the power of the internet moved from the academic sphere to society at large, there have been questions about the internet’s power to disrupt - seen by some as a threat, seen by others as an opportunity.

The open, free and global internet presents challenges to those who want to control what people are doing, hearing and knowing. The push back against the open model of the internet, whether technically or policy wise, has been growing for two decades, and it isn’t going away any time soon. 

It is only a couple of weeks since the latest plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU is a venerable but intergovernmental institution where much air time has been devoted to the question of giving governments more of a say in internet governance. An important milestone at this most recent ITU gathering was the election of the Secretary General. Doreen Bogden-Marten from the US was elected as the first female Secretary-General in the ITU’s history. 
Her long history of work in the sector and rolling out connectivity in developing countries put her in good stead.

This outcome is good news for the multi-stakeholder environment, in the sense that other leadership candidates had a different focus – on undermining the multi-stakeholder model.  Also good news from the Plenipotentiary is Australia’s re-election to the ITU Council, where we have been since 1959. With the Plenipotentiary done for this year, the work goes on. 

It just has to be said out loud – the critics of multi-stakeholder internet governance don’t sleep, and so neither can we. In the next few years, these debates will continue. Not just in the ITU. Two upcoming forums are the upcoming Summit for the Future in the United Nations in 2024, and the twenty year review of the World Summit on the Information Society due in 2025. Another arena is in the negotiations at the United Nations on new cybercrime treaties.

So why should we care? These are esoteric sounding processes and they have very long timeframes – do they really matter? They do. They matter because the governance model shapes the outcome.  Multi-stakeholder approaches work to weave together the diverse views that sustain the open, free, secure and global internet that create so much economic and social value. We need to be engaged and active, as a community and a country, to support the internet. We need to be as savvy and as committed as those that want to change it for the worse.

But are we? Are we engaged? Are we effective? 

Today, we – and the ‘we’ I mean is those around the world who support the internet as it is – haven’t been as committed or effective as we really need to be. In the face of a different point of view that is prepared to commit people, time and money, deep strategy and long horizons, we haven’t been playing to effectively win. Certainly we’ve gone from event to event, meeting to meeting, rushing to prepare, and sometimes just asserting the current model’s merits. Sometimes it’s seemed as if we think we shouldn’t even really have to make the case. But that approach is fundamentally letting the side down and is not good enough. But I see it as an opportunity to change what we’re doing and make more of a difference to this important debate. 

auDA’s contribution

auDA’s interest here arises from many sources:

  • Our history as a key part of Australia’s and indeed the global internet community
  • Our terms of endorsement from the Australian Government
    • These mandate us to advocate for and actively participate in multi-stakeholder internet governance processes both domestically and internationally
  • Our strategic plan, with its clear focus on supporting multi-stakeholder internet governance.

We at auDA have been growing our capacity and our effort in this area. auDA this year was thrilled to welcome the previous CEO of InternetNZ, Jordan Carter, to head up our policy team. Jordan took up the role as Internet Governance and Policy Director in July this year. Jordan is working with Annaliese Williams and Sabina Fernando to bolster auDA’s capacity to contribute to domestic and international policy discussions.  If the team are not yet known to you, through their outreach and good work, they will be very soon!

We had a big year and a positive year at auDA in 2022 and are looking forward to an even bigger year and more effective year in 2023. Our mandate, our strategy and where we are putting our resources should send the clearest possible message. auDA is up for making a very solid and growing contribution to fight for an open, free, secure and global internet. 

NetThing’s importance

And so, I come to NetThing. I am very supportive of this forum as a way to bring together the Australian internet community and as a way to make multi-stakeholder internet governance stronger in Australia. auDA is not just a key sponsor. We are a key participant. I am delighted to see a number of my colleagues on the programme, and I’m also pleased at the role some have played in planning and producing the event behind the scenes. 

To me, NetThing has enormous potential. Here are some of the areas I hope we can work together to develop as we conclude this year’s event and turn our eyes to 2023 and beyond.

I’d love next year to see lots more people at this NetThing next year. Am I too ambitious in thinking 500 is the number? Could we get there? How could we attract them?

I’d love for NetThing to firmly set the agenda for internet governance in Australia, and contribute to regional and global forums on that basis. What do we have to do to get there? How do we get a broader cross-section of key decision makers into the key discussions? How can we share our debates here more broadly?

You will have other ideas to add to the mix. All I’m doing to starting the conversation. I welcome the discussions from yesterday and those to come today. Please reach out to let me, or auDA staff know, what we can do to support the ongoing evolution of the internet governance dialogue. 


I am looking forward to Minister Rowland’s contribution up next, and I hope you are too. The Minister has been a strong advocate for the multi-stakeholder model bringing a depth of experience from both her time as Shadow Minister as well as her career before politics. Before entering Parliament, the Minister was a lawyer specialising in competition and regulation in the telecommunications, media and technology sectors. So I’m really looking forward to hearing from the Minister today. 

Find out more about NetThing and how to get involved at netthing.org.au.