Most Australian not-for-profits operate with a .org.au domain name. The .org.au domain space has always been more tightly controlled than the .org space, through .auDA’s .au Domain Administration Rules: Licensing.

Important changes coming into effect on 12 April 2021 will impact the .org.au domain space. Importantly, some not-for-profits that are currently eligible to hold a .org.au will no longer be eligible.

what domain names are affected?

The new rules will affect all .au ccTLDs that are registered, transferred or renewed on or after 12 April 2021. This means that while existing domain names will not be immediately affected, they will all be eventually at their next renewal.

changes to the .org.au domain space

unincorporated associations

From 12 April 2021, an unincorporated association will not be eligible to hold .org.au domain names unless it is registered as a charity with the ACNC, or meets one of the other eligibility conditions (eg it is a charitable trust registered with the ACNC or a public or private ancillary fund endorsed by the ATO as a deductible gift recipient). This will primarily impact bodies such as social, recreational or sporting clubs, professional or trade groups.

If the unincorporated association doesn’t fall under one of the other eligibility conditions, it must either:

  • incorporate; or
  • transition to a .asn.au domain name.

new eligible .org.au registrants

The new rules also now open up .org.au domain names to a number of new not-for-profit types for the first time:

  • indigenous corporations under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth);
  • a non-distributing co-operative registered under State or Territory legislation;
  • a registered State or Territory political party;
  • government, being either the Crown, or a Commonwealth, State or Territory statutory agency.

state and territory namespaces

The Australian State and Territory namespaces – such as .vic.au and .qld.au – are being opened up to new registrants.  From 12 April 2021, State and Territory peak bodies will be entitled to register in these domain spaces.

Examples given by .auDA are the sport and recreation peak body Football Federation Australia, the NSW peak body for community service organisations Carers NSW, or the WA arts peak body Propel Youth Arts WA.

This presents an exciting opportunity for peak bodies to gain greater recognition of their status, hopefully improving their ability to represent and support their members.

renting or leasing of sub-domains

The renting or leasing of sub-domains is being prohibited under the new rules. The .au Domain Administration Rules: Licensing do not define what is meant by renting or leasing. However, conceivably this may affect a federation or affiliation of not-for-profit bodies with a common name or purpose, but which are divided along geographical lines.

Suppose that there is a shared domain such as nfp.org.au, held by a national peak body. Under a licence agreement, the peak body licenses each regional affiliate to use the shared trade marks and a relevant sub-domain such as victoria.nfp.org.au, brisbane.nfp.org.au, etc. Merely allowing the affiliate to provide content to the domain name registrant to post on a relevant sub-domain should fall short of renting or leasing the sub-domain.  However, if the affiliate has full control over that sub-domain, that might constitute a lease.

Another notable change is that any prohibited use of a sub-domain now expressly permits the suspension or cancellation of the whole domain. Previously the understanding was that it would not.  This can create a significant risk for a movement as a whole.