I thank the member for Casey for moving this important motion. Home care packages are an essential feature of our aged-care system. They allow people to stay at home longer and to live independently by providing nursing support and assistance with household tasks like cooking, cleaning and gardening. The Wangaratta Chronicle recently shared Betty Toppin’s story. Betty is a 90-year-old woman who’s received home care support for more than five years, in addition to medical support for her diabetes. Betty told the local paper, ‘The cleaner comes and cleans the unit, she vacuums—she does all that work—and she does a lovely job.’ There are many stories like Betty’s, and I know home care packages make a life-changing difference for people across north-east Victoria. That’s why I’ve stood in this place many times highlighting the need for substantial Commonwealth investment in home care.

So I very much welcome the government’s announcement of $531.4 million for an extra 24,100 home care packages in the recent budget. I’m concerned, however, that despite this significant investment there will be very little immediate effect in my electorate of Indi. While home care packages can make a monumental difference for people like Betty as they age, more and more people in my electorate are struggling to access the home care they need. Firstly, the process of getting an assessment for a package can be subject to complications and delays. Once a person has been approved for a home care package, they face being put on a waitlist to access these supports. Concerningly, many providers across my electorate have closed their waitlists because of existing backlogs.

Secondly, a lack of regional providers means that nurses, cleaners or gardeners are often travelling long distances over many hours to visit clients, which chews up budgets or sees providers simply stopping offering services in some towns. In the Murrindindi shire, in the southern part of my electorate, delays have worsened in recent years. Despite the best efforts of home care package providers, there are simply not enough trained and suitable workers to give residents the support at home that they deserve.

I understand that workforce shortages can’t be fixed overnight, which is why this government needs to continue doing everything it can to get more workers into the regions. These shortages mean that people feel like they will never get the care they need and will be forced to move into residential aged care sooner than is necessary. That’s why, as a regional Independent, I consistently advocate for policies that will encourage more nurses, more support workers and more allied health professionals to move to our regions.

Put simply, we will not fix existing delays with funding alone. We need to address the underlying causes of shortages in regional areas. We need to consider place based solutions that recognise the unique circumstances of regional, rural and remote Australia. We need to invest more in our regional universities and TAFEs so we can train the nurses and personal care workers of the future. This is why I welcomed the announcement of paid placements for students studying for nursing and social work degrees, and it’s why I also support regional university study hubs for towns like Alexandra in the Murrindindi shire. A study hub would be a game changer for young Australians wanting to stay, study and work in the region in aged care. We also need to pay workers in this crucial sector a decent wage, which is why I’ve supported the government’s $11 billion commitment to funding wage rises in aged care. Extending funding for initiatives like the Home Care Workforce Support Program will help get more workers into areas where they are needed, and I was glad to see this funding extended in the budget.

Home-care packages are so important for people in my electorate and right across Australia. They preserve people’s ability and right to live at home independently, even as some day-to-day tasks get harder. But the system is struggling with workforce shortages and service gaps, particularly in regional areas. More funding alone won’t fix that problem. It’s an all-of-government approach on this one. The government needs to push forward with its plan to grow the aged-care workforce so that all Australians can age with dignity; it needs to address the fundamental issues that rural and regional Australia faces with housing for workers to live in to come and provide the services that we need in rural and regional Australia; and it needs to continue to address the flexibility that we require with any government program to make sure that it works in rural, regional and remote Australia. So—while, yes, I’m happy to see investment in this budget for home-care packages—I want to see a whole-of-system approach that will address the issues specifically in electorates such as mine.

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