InternetNZ byelection: Rochelle Furneaux wins, Alastair Thompson second

Alastair Thompson has missed out on a spot on the Council of InternetNZ, the non-profit that administers the .nz domain, controls the wholesale market for domain names (web addresses), and lobbies on behalf of Internet users.

None of the seven candidates gain a majority in the first-round count under InternetNZ's preferential voting system, but Wellington lawyer Rochelle Furneaux gained the most votes from InternetNZ members, followed by Thompson.

When preferences were relocated, Furneaux remained on top, with more than double Thompson's votes.

She will replace Nat Torkington, who resigned before Christmas, on the InternetNZ Council.

Former DLA Phillips Fox senior associate Furneaux is a director of Enspiral Legal, part of the wider Enspiral "virtual network" of 33 shareholder-staff who focus on different professional areas. Her areas of expertise include intellectual property, copyright, and privacy. She is also a legal mentor at the Wellington Startup Weekend, and a past member of the Auckland District Law Society’s technology committee. Her CV includes work with the Creative Freedom Foundation during its social media ‘blackout’ campaign protest that saw the government water-down the so-called three-strikes or "SkyNet" law, removing a provision that would have seen file sharing offenders lose their internet accounts.

InternetNZ was at one point on course for a conflict-of-interest hearing of Thompson was elected. But the Scoop GM's abrupt resignation from Kim Dotcom's Internet Party, and loss to Furneaux, have spared the organisation the drama.

Yesterday, Thompson revealed he is returning to Scoop, though not as editor.

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Scoop editor turned Dotcom party operative Alastair Thompson faces possible conflict of interest as stands for InternetNZ

Jan 24: Alastair Thompson - who recently left his post as general manager and editor of Scoop for a role with Kim Dotcom's soon-to-launch Internet Party - faces a possible conflict of interest as he stands in an InternetNZ council byelection.

LATEST: Thompson quits as Internet Party general secretary

The non-profit InternetNZ administers the .nz domain, through its subsidiary the Domain Name Commission, and controls the wholesale market for .nz addresses through subsidiary Internet Registry Services. It lobbies for "an open and uncapturable" internet, with its CEO and policy lead frequently appearing before Parliamentary select committees, among other policy and advocacy work.

The resignation of entrepreneur Nat Torkington from the organisation's Council has led to a byelection. Online voting by InternetNZ members is now underway, closing January 30. Mr Thompson is squaring off against six other candidates, Don Gould, Etuate Cocker, Karaitiana Taiuru (whom among other roles is a director of Hautaki Ltd, the iwi investor in 2degrees), Mark Barlow, Richard Orzecki and Rochelle Furneaux (see bios here).

InternetNZ advocates on behalf of all internet users, and does not align itself with any political party. Could Thompson - the secretary-in-waiting for the Internet Party - serve neutrally on its Council (essentially, InternetNZ's board of directors)? Would there be perceived, or real, conflict of interest?

In terms of InternetNZ's operational team, new CEO Jordan Carter stood as a Labour list candidate at the last election, but cut ties with the party when he took on his new role.

"InternetNZ has a clear conflict of interest policy for Council members. If Council members stand to gain from information attained from their work as a Councillor then that is considered a conflict," InternetNZ President Frank March told NBR this morning.

"Each declared conflict is assessed on its own merits. If Alastair is elected, the Council would have to discuss this particular case."

Members span political spectrum
Mr March notes the InternetNZ Council is made up of people spanning the political spectrum. (Mr March did not cite any specific examples, but former InternetNZ vice president and current chairman of InternetNZ's Policy Advisory Group and Domain Name Commission director David Farrar has close National Party ties, for example, and is a high-profile conservative voice through Kiwiblog and as a cofounder of the Taxypayers' Union.)

"We welcome anyone to join," Mr March says.

"This is also not the first time Alastair has been nominated," the President adds.

Mr Thompson stood at the regular InternetNZ Council election in July last year, for which four of 12 positions were up for grabs. He lost out as Lance Wiggs were Neil James were re-elected, and two retiring Counillors were replaced by newcomers, Richard Wood (until recently senior communications manager for Xero) and Westpac principal technology architect Amber Craig.

"Indefensible"
The editor and GM faced criticism from within his own camp as he departed Scoop - particularly over registering domain names (website addresses) for the Internet Party while still Scoop editor and a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with his interest in Dotcom's political venture undeclared.

Gordon Campbell recently wrote on Scoop, "Especially in an election year, any potential conflicts had to be identified and dealt with beforehand in a way that maintained the necessary distance. Instead, the boundaries in this case were actively blurred. The domain name registration was indefensible."

InternetNZ's FY13 accounts show retained earnings increasing from the previous year's $9.18 million to $9.38 million.

Income fell from $700,500 last year to $191,100 as operating expenses increased, and InternetNZ contributed to projects associated with the Christchurch rebuild.

Revenue - primarily derived from wholesaling .nz domain names - was up from $7.09 million to $7.70 million.

InternetNZ Councillors receive an annual honoraria of $9000, but a the main pull of a position on the Council is for a voice on InternetNZ policy - and InternetNZ is in turn a strong voice in the political debate on issues like the surveillance bills, copyright legislation, the TPP and the UFB.

Mr Thompson did not respond to an NBR request for comment.