Are you a public entity?

What is a public entity?

A public entity is an organisation or body providing services to the public on behalf of the government or another public entity.

The public service and its employees are examples of public entities.

There are two types of public entities: core public entities, and functional public entities (although these are not the terms used in the Act). Both have the same obligations under the Act.

Core public entities are public entities at all times, regardless of the functions they’re performing. State government departments fall under this category.

Functional public entities are those which are only public entities when they are performing certain functions. Including these under the Act reflects the modern operation of the government, where non-government entities are engaged in various ways to deliver services to the public, on behalf of the government or another public entity. A private company managing a prison would fall under this category: they would be a functional public entity when delivering their prison management services, but not for other work they may carry out as a private company not on behalf of the state.

For the purposes of the Human Rights Act, a public entity is ‘in and for Queensland’. This means that federal public services and entities are not included.

Public entities with responsibilities under the Human Rights Act include:

  • State Government departments and employees;
  • Local councils, councillors and employees;
  • Queensland Police and other emergency services;
  • State schools;
  • Public health services;
  • Public service employees;
  • State Government Ministers; and
  • Organisations providing public services on behalf of the government, eg public housing providers.

Private schools are not public entities. Nor are private health services. The reason for this is that although in both cases they are performing functions of a public nature, they are not doing so on behalf of the state.

Public entities are defined as ‘carrying out functions of a public nature’. In determining whether this is the case, it can help to think about whether the function is connected to the functions of government, and/or whether the entity is publicly funded to perform it.

The Act itself provides a non-exhaustive list of functions which are of a public nature. They include:

  • Emergency services;
  • Public health services;
  • Public disability services;
  • Public education, including public tertiary education and public vocational education;
  • Public transport; and
  • A housing service provided by a funded provider of the State under the Housing Act 2003.

The Queensland Government has produced a checklist to help identify whether organisations are public entities. It is available to download as a pdf from the forgov website.

Parliamentary committees, courts and tribunals are only ‘public entities’ for the purposes of the Act when they are acting in an administrative capacity, otherwise they are excluded from the obligations imposed on public entities.

Parliament is also excluded from the definition of ‘public entity’ under the Act, although it has other responsibilities in regards to human rights

Read more about the responsibilities of the parliament under the Human Rights Act.

Organisations may also choose to be declared a public entity by regulation under the Act.