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Marama Davidson Free Dental for All Speech

Jun 17, 2023Jun 17, 2023

Ata mārie and welcome.

Let me start by saying a massive thank you to all of you for being here today.

I know you're here because you want to change Aotearoa for the better.

You know that Aotearoa can be a country where everyone has enough to cover the weekly shop and a warm, dry place to live.

You just want a government with the courage to make it happen.

A few weeks ago, the Green Party announced our Income Guarantee.

A simple and achievable commitment to every New Zealander that no matter what, your income will never fall below $385 per week.

This will make sure anyone out of work or studying has enough to live on, top-up the incomes for those raising tamariki, guarantee extra help for anyone who is sick or disabled, and cut taxes for 95% of New Zealanders.

And every dollar we need to pay for it will come from making sure the wealthiest few and large corporations contribute their fair share of tax.


We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

We have everything we need to create the Aotearoa we all want to live in.

An Aotearoa that honours the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Where everyone has enough to live a good life.

Where people have warm, affordable homes in inclusive, climate-friendly communities connected by buses and trains, cycleways, and safe walking.

We can choose to be that country.

The biggest barrier is not a lack of resources, but the lack of political courage.

And so, in the absence of any other party giving a clear voice to the solutions we know people need, it is up to us.

Ko tenei te wa. The time is now.


The places where people live, learn, work, and play shape our health in many ways.

When people can afford to pay the bills and put healthy food on the table, they can eat better and look after themselves and their whanau.

When people's homes are warm and dry, they are less likely to get sick from mould, or need to go to the doctor with breathing difficulties.

When a large share of someone's income goes towards paying the rent or the mortgage, it is so much harder for people to afford healthy food.

Being able to access quality health care close to where we live is also a vital part of a healthy, thriving society.

Eighty-five years ago, the Government of the Right Honourable Michael Joseph Savage introduced free medical care - paid for with taxes on those who were doing extremely well.

It was a political choice.

A choice that reflected the underlying values of the government of the day.

A choice to allocate resources where they are needed to build the kind of communities and society that are good for all people to live in.

A recognition that our families, communities, and economy are all stronger when people can get the medical attention they need when they need it, regardless of their income or circumstances.

In Aotearoa, most of us now accept that access to high quality, free health care is essential for everyone.

We fund our hospitals.

We make sure that if people are sick or injured, they can take time off work.

We support whānau by making sure they can take their tamariki to the doctor without having to worry about cost.

These are all choices that governments make about who can and cannot access healthcare.

But there is one choice that government -after-government has got fundamentally wrong.

The choice to treat our teeth differently to the rest of our bodies, making oral health a privilege only a few can now afford.


Seventeen years ago, the former Prime Minister Helen Clark expanded dental care from our youngest children to everyone aged 18 and under.

But here's a question: why not everyone?

Dental care for adults is the one aspect of healthcare that people have to pay for almost entirely out of their own pockets.

And very few actually can.

Dental care in New Zealand is currently among the most expensive in the world.

The cost of treatment can range from $90 for a check up, to $3,000 for a single-tooth implant.

Rather than a human right that everyone, regardless of income, is entitled to, healthy teeth have become a luxury few of us can afford.

The choices we make about how to prioritise the lives and livelihoods of those who need our support the most should be a measure of every political party.

What kind of country are we where a huge health issue that impacts every single one of us, gets so little government support.

Just two percent of health spending goes towards caring for people's teeth - and that's mostly for children's services.

Unbelievably, we have a higher rate of unmet dental care in Aotearoa because of cost than even the United States.

For people living on the lowest incomes, the situation is stark, as it is for Māori and Pasifika.

A staggering one in every two people living on a low income needs to see a dentist but doesn't because of cost.

It is hard for me to imagine how anyone could defend a system that makes access to such a fundamental part of our health dependent on how much money we have.

We have made poor oral health a badge of poverty. And the time is now to change that.


Toothache can be incredibly painful.

Left untreated, it can turn into tooth decay, which can lead to other severe health problems.

Poor oral health can stop people sleeping and cause other health complications.

It can make people feel isolated and self conscious; impacting their self esteem and mental health.

Every single year, there are 13,000 hospital admissions in Aotearoa due to oral health related issues.

Some of which are people going to the emergency department after taking pliers to their own teeth in a desperate attempt to fix problems that have spiralled out of control.

If you're on a low income, the chances are you've probably lost at least one tooth due to untreated decay by age 40.

For young people, it is getting so bad that more and more are having all of their teeth removed because they cannot afford to get treatment.

That is heartbreaking.

In most cases, the issues tens of thousands of us are dealing with could have been prevented with a regular trip to the dentist.

But it's just too bloody expensive for most people!

The average trip to the dentist can now be expected to set someone back a massive three hundred and fifty three dollars.

That's more than forty per cent of the weekly income for someone earning the minimum wage.

Imagine trying to find a spare $350 when you can barely even cover the weekly groceries.

A recent poll revealed that seven in 10 adults in Aotearoa delay going to the dentist because of the cost.

Right now, there are more than 1.5 million people over the age of 18 in this country who cannot afford any type of dental care.

If you cannot afford to go to a dentist when you need to, then what can start as a minor, treatable problem can keep getting worse and worse until the only option is life-changing surgery.

Someone who cannot afford to see a dentist today, may have to pay for a root canal in a few years time.


As we speak, hundreds of thousands of people across Aotearoa need to go to a dentist, but don't because they cannot afford the cost.

There are people who are losing sleep because of toothache, who are walking around in pain every single day when they don't need to be.

There are people living with the constant worry that they are just one dentist visit away from going into debt, just to pay for what is essential healthcare.

All of us know someone who has skipped going to the dentist because of the cost.

It is an outrage that in a wealthy country like ours, such a crucial part of a person's overall health and wellbeing is dependent upon their income.

Let's be clear: the current dental care system in Aotearoa is broken and cruel.

This hasn't happened by accident.

It is the consequence of political decisions successive governments have made to exclude dental care from the public health system.

And it has got to change.

So, today, I am proud to announce that if you elect the Green Party into a stronger position in the next government, we will make dental care FREE in Aotearoa.

For everyone.


Under our plan, everyone will be able to keep their teeth healthy, and access treatment when they need it through a new community-based New Zealand Dental Service.

Everyone will have access to free annual check-ups, cleanings, fillings and extractions as needed, at a local dentist.

We will provide mobile dental vans, portable clinics and funding for local dental clinics, including on marae and in community hubs, so no one has to travel long distances to look after their teeth.

The New Zealand Dental Service will provide emergency and complex dental services through local hospitals or specialist sites.

This means people will be able to get treatment to address things like abscesses, pain, and infection before it impacts their general health.

We will prioritise kaupapa Māori healthcare services, so whānau have access to high-quality dental care.

And we will train the next generation of dentists by lifting the cap on training placements and supporting more Māori and Pasifika into careers in dentistry.

This will all be paid for by revenue from the wealth tax.

For decades, successive governments have repeatedly denied their ability to fix major problems.

They tell us their hands are tied.

They say only little steps are possible.

But Aotearoa is a wealthy country.

We have everything we need to build an Aotearoa that works for everyone.


Here's how our plan will work.

In the first year - from 2024 - we'll direct Te Whatu Ora to contract with private dental providers, on a similar basis to how dental care is provided for under-18s, or through ACC.

The details of these contracts will be worked through together with dentists to ensure it covers costs of care, and is set up to manage higher demand in the first few years.

At the same time, Te Whatu Ora will also start delivering services directly in communities through the New Zealand Dental Service.

This will include mobile and pop up clinics in areas that have no dental care at all at the moment.

The following year, in 2025, the New Zealand Dental Service will expand specialist care for more complex needs.

Over time, the New Zealand Dental Service will hire more dentists, and a greater share of dental services will be delivered publicly.

Existing clinics could opt-in to being integrated into the public system, with private dentists choosing to become employees of the New Zealand Dental Service.

For people accessing services, it means getting care when you need it, in easy to access community settings.

That could be a mobile van visiting rural communities where people currently have to travel hours to get to a dentist.

It could be a campus clinic at a university or wānanga, or a pop up clinic in a community hall or marae.

It could be visiting a community dental clinic in your neighbourhood, with trusted dentists who you see each year for cleanings and checkups.

The New Zealand Dental Service will be completely free of charge to everyone.

This is a truly transformational plan that will be life changing for tens of thousands of people right across Aotearoa.

It will mean everyone can look after their teeth and gums and access the care they need, when they need it.

And every dollar we need to pay for it will come from a fair tax system.


We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because we cannot sit by and listen to excuses.

The time for half measures is long gone. Now is the time for action.

It will not be acceptable to the tens of thousands of people living in pain; nor to the Green Party; nor to me… if people in Aotearoa continue to go without the healthcare they need.

The only thing stopping us is political courage. The money is there, we just need to decide to use it.

It is a political choice. That's it.

Ko tenei te wa. The time is now.


This election we are in the fight of our lives.

Last Wednesday's poll showed just how close it is going to be.

A few seats either way could decide the future direction of Aotearoa.

And those seats could be decided by just a few thousand votes.

A few thousand votes could be the difference between a government that will take bold climate action and ensure everyone can live decent, healthy lives.

A government that will restore and protect nature, and tackle the climate crisis with the urgency it demands.

Or a government that will cut taxes for the wealthiest few, open up new oil drilling, and leave thousands of families struggling to get by.

This October, we have the opportunity to make a real positive difference in people's lives.

To take the bold action our communities so desperately need.

Like free dental care for everyone.

There will be political leaders who say: not yet, it's too hard, too expensive, there are too many constraints.


Political leaders do not get to decide what will and won't happen after the election.

That is your job.

You create the mandate for bold political action.

Over the next 10 weeks you will hear from us a simple message, over and over again:

That a vote for the Green Party will set the direction of the next Government…

… so we can take bold climate action, guarantee everyone a warm home, and help everyone make ends meet by lifting incomes.

If you want a government that will take bold action to address the challenges we face, then the only option is a vote for the Green Party.

More Green MPs means more Green Ministers in Cabinet.

More Green Ministers means we will be at the table to influence the direction of the next government.

More Green MPs holding the balance of power will mean that we will be able to make dental care in Aotearoa free for everyone.

We will finally do what dentists, doctors, and public health specialists have been begging the Government to do for decades.

Together with the Income Guarantee and Pledge to Renters, the Green Party's New Zealand Dental Service will lift incomes and improve social services so everyone can meet their needs and live a good life.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

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