[Linux-aus] Council Meeting Minutes - 2011-02-03

Anthony Towns aj at erisian.com.au
Wed Feb 9 02:40:17 EST 2011

On Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 16:19, Terry Dawson <tjd at animats.net> wrote:
> On 04-Feb-11 5:33 PM, Anthony Towns wrote:
>> Actually, LA is more of an LCA event, than the other way around.
>> Without the efforts of LCA organisers, LA wouldn't have enough members
>> to form an executive. We know that's true, because that's the way it
>> used to be.
> Without wanting to drag up ancient history, I disagree. I've maintained
> a respectful silence about this period for a long time, because for me
> it represents a period of innocent naiivety and personal failure, but I
> don't think it reasonable to see that period re-interpreted.
> Membership numbers were very low between 1999 and 2001, but it wasn't
> because of a lack of an LCA.

They were also very low in 2002 (which is to say, there were maybe
five actual members), and continued to be low until the organisers of
LCA in Perth added an "LA AGM" into their schedule, and declared
everyone who attended LCA got a free LA membership. As it turned out,
the lack of clarity of who was previously a member prior to the the
AGM at 2003 continued to cast some degree of doubt on the organsation
for some months thereafter. See:


(Or just compare the list traffic in any month of 2002 against any
month of 2003)

> It was in fact because there wasn't a
> particularly well-defined or published membership process. LA had no
> trouble with quorum prior to CALU99, but we floundered around trying to
> work out how to work with the various LUGs before going on any sort of
> recruitment drive. It was my idea to stay small until we had the model
> right, even with retrospect I'm convinced that was the right thing to
> do. There was a climate of distrust with many LUGs opposing the idea of
> a national body, it was an exhausting slog for some time.

Sure. It's /still/ an exhausting slog (well, speaking for myself as a
not-that-long-ago council member) -- if you subtract LCA from LA,
what's left is interesting, but it's not as interesting, and it's a
great contribution, but not nearly so great as much of what goes on at

> Rusty approached us proposing a conference and we agreed to provide the
> legal entity to support it. It was exactly the sort of opportunity we
> were looking for. LA was hurriedly formally incorporated to support
> CALU-99. We established a bank account and public liability insurance.

(For which many kudos are due; but that doesn't actually sound like an
argument against the claim that LA wouldn't have existed without
LCA... :)

> CALU-99 catalysed a lot of open discussion and interest about developing
> Linux Australia into the sort of organisation it is today, but many of
> us who'd been working on the idea by that time were disheartened and had
> run out of energy. A few of us kept [LA] breathing for a year or two, the
> period to which you refer. At last fresh blood came into the
> organisation, they created LCA2001 and it actually took on the life it
> had aspired to. The symbiotic relationship between LA and LCA has grown
> ever since.

As above, I was actually referring to the period post Jan 2003.
Between the 2001 and 2002 conferences, from a practical perspective,
LA amounted to Anand -- he had access to the server that was running
the website and database, the main bank account, and the credit card
processing. For LCA 2002, we outsourced all that to LA, which turned
out to be something of a mistake -- it meant we didn't have quite
enough oversight and access, and we ended up getting bitten by a
cookie-related bug in the rego software as a result. Upside was it
saved us from doing a bunch of work, downside was, as usual, mitigated
by the awesomeness of our attendees, and a bunch of work by Anand and
the rest of us.

According to www.linux.org.au/About/Council there were five members of
the committee (rather than seven) that year, and Anand was both
President and Treasurer; though I think there were other oddities with
formalities of the organisation beyond that too. At any rate, Anand
was the only active person on the LA side of things, as far as I can


> There is no denying that LCA is by far the most important and successful
> activity of LA,

That depends. As it stands, that's entirely true; but it would be very
easy for future LCAs to organise their own legal entity, bank accounts
and PLI, and for LCA to become the most important and successful
activity that LA doesn't do any more. That idea's been raised (rather
seriously) in the past when there's been friction between LA and LCA,
and the only reason it looks as implausible as it does now is that
we've got good traditions on how to avoid having LA tread on LCA team
members' toes, at least too often.

Put it this way: if the council were to have a collective brainsnap
tomorrow, and dissolved Linux Australia, linux.conf.au 2012 would have
very few problems going ahead: there'd be some confusion amongst
sponsors to sort out, some cashflow problems dealing with the lack of
seed funds, a bunch of paperwork to file, and a lot of care to be
taken to avoid letting a similar brainsnap happen again, but nothing
terribly challenging.

If LCA were to stop, LA would become cashflow-negative, its main
source of members would disappear, its ability to actually get its
members together in person once a year would disappear, and every
thing it did to help other groups or projects would hasten the day
when it would go broke. My expectation is that the organisation would
effectively disappear too: that's certainly the state it was in before
LCA focussed attention on it, and it's the state that AUUG found
itself in when its conference lost relevance, despite a large bank
balance, a grand history, and lots of important things that it could
be focusing on.

> There remain a number of activities completely unrelated to LCA that LA
> should be and are pursuing, albeit perhaps more slowly than some in the
> community might like.

I agree. I merely think the only way LA's going to stay around to
undertake those activities is with a hugely respectful -- in fact,
almost an actively *deferential* -- attitude to the teams that run
linux.conf.au and provide LA with the resources it gives to those
activities. [1]

> LA was created as a body to represent the Linux
> community in Australia and to act as a large consolidated voice to lobby
> government, business and other powerful organisations to adopt and
> promote it for the benefit of all. I believe that role remains as valid
> today as it ever was. It'd be a shame to see that focus lost because of
> the success of the conference.

If LA didn't want to be distracted by running LCA it could very easily
achieve that -- if it asked for volunteers to manage a new
linux.conf.au specific organisation, I expect past, current and future
organisers would be happy to step up and make that happen. My
expectation is, as I've indicated above, that that'd mean LA went back
to being as ineffective at lobbying government, business, or promoting
Linux, or open source, or open systems as it was in 2002, or as AUUG
is today. [2]

I don't think it can be said too bluntly: the success of the
conference isn't making LA lose its focus, it's what gives LA its



[0] Post 2003, Pia took the reigns and did a great job getting LA to
do non-LCA stuff -- I'm not suggesting any of that happened magically
as soon as LCA folks glanced at the organisation; it took a lot of
energy and effort. Just that the attention (and the funding that had
already built up from CALU and three successful LCAs) was what gave LA
the kick to actually start doing something about its lofty goals.

[1] In the past, LCA's profits have allowed LA to support IP research,
government lobbying, SFD promotion, and other conferences including
OSDC and BarCamps. I suppose it's possible PyCon, DrupalDownUnder and
WordCamp might have let LA's non-LCA activities become revenue
positive over the past year, but I haven't seen any suggestion that's
the case. As far as I can tell, there's been no other revenue
generation over the past year, and while interest payments have in the
past been enough to cover administrative overhead, they haven' t been
enough to do anything actually useful.

[2] But hey, maybe not -- if LA was to ask nicely, the newly split LCA
org might even donate some of their profits to LA. Assuming they don't
just donate it all to a local charity, or reduce the ticket price, or
pay it directly to other free software projects, of course. And, of
course, if LA is in the habit of asking nicely, there's no need for a
split in the first place...

[3] None of this is to say the work put into LA isn't valuable; I
think it is, and I wouldn't have volunteered to be on the council for
the five years I was if I didn't think that. (BTW, if there's record
of who the office bearers were pre-2001, it should probably go up on
the About/Council page on the website)

Anthony Towns <aj at erisian.com.au>

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