The public sector comprises all organisations owned or controlled by any of the four levels of government within the Australian political system:
The public sector can be divided into the institutional sectors described below, based on the characteristics of the organisations it comprises. These sectors are as follows:
- General government. The principal function of general government entities is to provide non-market goods and services (e.g. roads, hospitals, libraries) primarily financed by taxes, to regulate and influence economic activity, to maintain law and order, and to redistribute income by means of transfer payments.
This institutional sector covers the departments of the Commonwealth Government, State Governments and local government municipalities. It also includes agencies and government authorities under departmental administration which are engaged in the provision of public administration, defence, law enforcement, welfare, public education, and health. Also included are non-departmental bodies which independently perform the government functions of regulation (e.g. Nurses Registration Boards and the Maritime Safety Authority), provision of non-market services (e.g. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), and redistribution of income (e.g. the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission). Some of these bodies may be corporations, but they are still considered part of the general government sector if they perform general government functions. Universities are also considered part of the general government sector.
Unincorporated government enterprises which provide goods and services to their governments and to the public at prices that are not economically significant (such as cafeterias for government employees, and municipal swimming pools) are also included in this sector. In addition, government quasi-corporations which sell their output exclusively to other government units, while not in open competition with other producers, are classified as general government units.
- Public non-financial corporations. The main function of public non-financial corporations (PNFCs) is to provide goods and services which are predominantly market, non-regulatory and non-financial in nature, and financed through sales to consumers of these goods and services.
Enterprises in the public non-financial corporations sector differ from those in the general government sector in that all or most of their production costs are recovered from consumers, rather than being financed from the general taxation revenue of government. Some enterprises, however, do receive subsidies to make up for shortfalls incurred as a result of government policy, for example in the provision of 'community service obligations' at concessional rates.
Public non-financial corporations vary in their degree of 'commercialism', from those which are quite heavily reliant on parent governments for subsidies, such as rail and bus transport undertakings, to those which are net contributors to government revenue. Governments may exercise control over public non-financial corporations by either owning more than 50% of the voting stock or otherwise controlling more than half the shareholders' voting power, or through legislation, decree or regulation which empowers the government to determine corporate policy or to appoint the directors. Examples of public non-financial corporations are: Telstra, Australia Post, State Rail and local bus and transport operations.
- Public financial corporations. Public financial corporations (PFCs) are government owned or controlled enterprises which engage in financial intermediation (i.e. trade in financial assets and liabilities), such as central borrowing authorities, government banks and insurance offices, or home lending schemes. The inclusion of PFCs in Government Finance Statistics makes GFS consistent in scope with the Australian accounting standard for whole of government reporting Australian Accounting Standard AAS31, Financial Reporting by Governments.