The Rudd Government’s Lobbyist Register celebrates its first birthday today and is in rude health. According to new figures from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, there were 653 individual lobbyists operating in the corridors of Parliament. The list is growing at about 3-4 per week and shows no sign of slowing.

The Register was a major step forward for accountability that brought the Commonwealth into line with a growing number of states, as well as other countries such as Canada. But as Crikey noted at the time the Register was announced by then-Special Minister of State John Faulkner, it covers just a small part of the lobbying industry in Canberra. The register only requires so-called third party lobbyists to register themselves and their clients. All other lobbyists- such as industry or professional associations and non-government organisations – escape any level of scrutiny.

Julian Fitzgerald is the Press Gallery’s resident lobbying guru and author of Lobbying in Australia. In 2006, he estimated that non-third party lobbyists spent $1 billion lobbying Canberra and had over 2,431 staff that included 260 public relations officers. He believes that figure to be closer to $1.5 billion today. But, Fitzgerald recently told the Public Relations Institute of Australia, he was “stunned at the number of third party lobbyists operating in Canberra”.

Fitzgerald told Crikey that he is concerned that few politicians are aware of how deeply imbedded the lobbyists have become not just around Parliament House but in lobbying the Commonwealth public service and lobbying and spruiking Government programs.

“These 653 individuals only represent the senior lobbyists involved in accessing Ministers in each major company and this does not accurately reflect the large number of staff essentially conducting the lobbying activities on behalf of a client.”

Fitzgerald wants greater regulation of the industry, which would include all lobbyists disclosing how much money they spent on lobbying and publicly disclosing all Commonwealth funds received to lobby, run and administer themselves or federal government programs. Prime Minister and Cabinet already employ four people to run the register and they should and could do more to protect the parliamentary system from these thousands of lobbyist operating in Canberra.

“Lobbyists have better access to Parliament and the bureaucracy than the citizens and taxpayers of the nation,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s time the Rudd Government acknowledged that.”