The public sector comprises all organisations owned or controlled by any of the four levels of government within the Australian political system; Commonwealth, state, local, and multi-jurisdictional.
The Commonwealth Government has exclusive responsibility under the Constitution for the administration of a wide range of functions including defence, foreign affairs and trade, and immigration. A distinctive feature of the Australian federal system is that the Commonwealth Government levies and collects all income tax, from individuals as well as from enterprises. It also collects a significant portion of other taxes, including taxes on the provision of goods and services. The Commonwealth distributes part of this revenue to other levels of government, principally the states.
State and territory governments (referred to as 'state' governments in this section) perform the full range of government functions, other than those the Constitution deems the exclusive domain of the Commonwealth. The functions mainly administered by state governments include public order, health, education, administration, transport and maintenance of infrastructure. The revenue base of state governments is narrower than that of the Commonwealth and consists of taxes on property, on employers' payrolls, and on provision and use of goods and services. This revenue base is supplemented by grants from the Commonwealth, which now includes an allocation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue.
Local government authorities govern areas typically described as cities, towns, shires, boroughs, municipalities and district councils. Although the range of functions undertaken by local governments varies between the different jurisdictions, their powers and responsibilities are generally similar and cover such matters as:
- the construction and maintenance of roads, streets and bridges
- water, sewerage and drainage systems
- health and sanitary services
- the regulation of building standards
Local governments also provide transport facilities, hospitals, charitable institutions, recreation grounds, parks, swimming pools, libraries, museums and other business undertakings. Local governments' own-source revenue is derived mainly from property taxes. They also rely on grants from the Commonwealth and their parent state governments. The Australian Capital Territory has no separate local government.
Universities are classified to a 'multi-jurisdictional' category, because of the combined role of the Commonwealth Government and the state governments in their financing and control. No other units are currently classified as multi-jurisdictional.
- the administration of regulations relating to items such as slaughtering, weights and measures, and registration of dogs.