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Sep 2 2023

Labour pledges free basic dental care for under 30s (by 2026)

Increasing access to free dental care was promised in the election – but Labour didn’t get voted in

In a speech riddled with disruptions, Labour’s leader has unveiled a mega tranche of his election year cost of living package: the promise of free dental care for under 30s by 2026.

If re-elected on October 14, Labour would roll out the policy in two stages, reaching 18 to 23-year-olds from the middle of 2025 and everyone under 30 by July the following year. It would include free annual check-ups, cleans, X-rays, basic fillings and extractions.

It comes with a price tag of $380 million over four years, with the first step up to 24 years being met through Budget 2025
and the second tranche up to 30 through Budget 2026 – meaning there won’t be any money spent on the plan in the first year.

“In 2022 alone, 1.5 million Kiwis didn’t visit a dentist because it was just too expensive,” said Chris Hipkins, addressing party faithful at Labour’s campaign launch today. “Extending free basic dental care is a huge move and one which will ultimately benefit all New Zealanders.

“By the end of our next term in government nearly 40% of all Kiwis will have access to free dental care.”

Also during his speech, Hipkins attacked “National’s pretend tax plan” (which he labelled a “swindle”) and the “economic sabotage” of their environment policy. He also blasted “parties that want to win at all costs and bugger the consequences”.

Chris Hipkins arrives at the Labour campaign launch (Photo: SSL)

Today’s dental plan is not the only policy promise of Labour’s that would take nearly three years to implement. The party’s planned parental leave increase and changes to Working for Families abatement levels wouldn’t fully kick in until 2026 either.

Health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall said the delayed start date meant there was time to enable the sector to prepare. “Growing the dental workforce is hugely important to Labour. Our government will work collaboratively with health agencies, regulatory and professional bodies to make sure we have the oral health therapists, dental hygienists and dentists we need,” she said.

To address the heightened demand, Verrall said Labour would increase the number of places in Bachelor of Dental Surgery course by 50%. “And we want to strengthen existing youth dental care.  The next Labour government will actively work with families to enrol their children with a dentist, and expand availability in different community settings like Māori and Pasifika health providers,” Verrall said.

In Labour’s first 100 days, the party would begin work on updating the Combined Dental Agreement, launch a
campaign to recruit more overseas dental workers, and work with the Dental Council on improvements to practice scopes. Funding increases for more dentist training would begin in May of next year, with 75 dentists expected to begin their first year of dental training by March 2025.

While there is no strict pledge to see the policy rolled out to older age groups, Labour said that this was the first step in our “long-term commitment to expand free dental care to all New Zealanders”.

According to a Labour policy document, today’s announcement is step eight in the party’s “10-point Cost of Living Plan”. In short that means watch this space. Hipkins concluded his speech today with a flashback to the Jacinda Ardern campaign of 2020: “Let’s keep moving forward,” he said. “I am in this for you.”

At least six protesters removed from Labour campaign launch as supporters cheer

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Cheers of “Let’s go Labour, let’s go” have drowned out the yelling of a handful of protesters inside Labour’s campaign launch at the Aotea Centre.

At least six disrupters have been removed from inside the Aotea Centre in what appears to be a coordinated hit during speeches by Helen Clark and Chris Hipkins. Meanwhile, outside the venue, crowds of Freedoms NZ protesters have gathered. They are applauding and cheering for each evicted protester as they emerge from the venue with a security escort.

It started early on in this afternoon’s proceedings. After former prime minister Helen Clark arrived on stage to speak, the precursor to an address from Chris Hipkins, a protester stood up from the stalls and started yelling. Much of it was inaudible from the back of the theatre, though he appeared to simply be yelling “Helen Clark”. The man later told media he was simply there to cause a scene.

Clark first attempted to speak over him, though eventually stood back and simply pointed at the exit as the Labour stalls erupted with chants and cheers. Security escorted the protester out, who was waving to the cameras.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Later, as prime minister Chris Hipkins started to speak, a pair of protesters stood up and started yelling: “why did I lose my job?” They later yelled at media that they were “mandated out of a job”.

A third protester started shouting from the upper balcony of the Aotea Centre, followed by a fourth back down in the stalls.

One was dragged screaming out into the Aotea Centre lobby where they were met by police. A police officer was heard saying “it’s getting quite nasty inside there now” and another added “bring them out one by one – quietly”.

There have so far been at least five disruptors removed from the campaign launch.

Inside the venue, as disruption continued, Hipkins said: “I think this is about the time I say ‘Up the Wahs”. The Labour leader has strayed a number of times from script to respond to the hijacks: “We are the party that says a small group of loud people should not drown out the majority”.

A protester is held back by security and police outside the Aotea Centre (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

In her address to party faithful, Clark said it was great to be back at a Labour campaign launch in Auckland. “I’ve been to one or two in my lifetime,” she said to laughs. “I’m so happy to be here supporting our leader Chris Hipkins and our party as we strive for a third term in office.”

Acknowledging the current polling, Clark said “no election is a pushover” and that Labour was “against the top end of town and what looks like an unprecedented war chest”. She took aim at the “illusion” of tax cuts proposed by National, saying they won’t deliver for the poor and “they don’t come for free”.

On Labour’s leaders, Clark paid tribute to Jacinda Ardern and the action her government took on housing and during times of crisis. “First Jacinda and now Chris [Hipkins] have shown exceptional leadership in hard times,” said Clark.

Freedoms protesters attempt to disrupt Labour campaign launch

Protesters at the Aotea Centre (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

The steps of the Aotea Centre in central Auckland are a wave of purple – not red – for what is meant to be Labour’s campaign launch.

Freedoms NZ protesters chanting “no more Labour pain” have swarmed outside of the venue, prompting police to keep a watchful eye nearby. One officer told me that the protesters weren’t preventing people from entering the venue, where prime minister Chris Hipkins will soon be speaking, but just “making a lot of noise”.

Protesters on the steps of the Aotea Centre (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

MPs spotted pushing their way through the sea of protesters included former minister Michael Wood, who quickly entered from stage right past police officers. Inside, he joined colleagues like David Parker and Deborah Russell who were speaking to Labour supporters.

Michael Wood arrives at the Aotea Centre (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

The interior of the Aotea Centre is as red as you can get, with t-shirts, placards and banners displaying the smiling faces of MPs.

We’re expecting a significant policy announcement from the prime minister Chris Hipkins about 2pm – all the details will be right here in these live updates. Before that, Hipkins will address party faithful and set the agenda for Labour’s election campaign from about 1pm. Stay tuned.