Jacinda Ardern marks free dental care as potential election issue at Waitangi

Free dental care has emerged as an election issue after the Government was challenged on the issue at Waitangi.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's heard the call and is marking dentistry as a potential election battlefield.

Isiah Apiata - nephew of Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata - wants vulnerable Kiwis to receive free dental care.

"My people cannot afford dentistry. On the small benefit they get, they fail to provide the necessary support, so they avoid going to the dentist," he said.

"I ask you humbly to consider free dentistry for those of our iwi Māori who cannot afford it."

Both Ardern and National leader Simon Bridges heard the message loud and clear.

"That's something I've heard consistently, and I understand why dental care is [so] expensive it's prohibitive," Ardern says.

"I don't want to get ahead of [the] Government. There is more work to do and I hear that call."

Bridges echoed her, saying free dental care for everyone is something all New Zealanders "aspirationally" want to see.

Despite Waitangi commemorations being held at the more neutral upper marae, it was still hyper-political on Tuesday. 

It's convention to pay respect at Waitangi - treaty negotiations Minister Andrew Little gave his speech entirely in te reo Māori - without notes.

But Bridges pitched away from Māori-favourability and threatened to abolish the seven Māori seats.

"I come here leading a party that doesn't believe in the Māori seats," he told the crowd.

The Labour Party currently holds all of them, but they're facing a different threat - a resurgent Māori Party with rumoured candidate John Tamihere who made an appearance at Waitangi on Tuesday.

So far, there's been no heckling, shoving or politicians being reduced to tears, which is what has happened in previous years.

That all used to happen at Te Tii Marae - which hasn't hosted events for three years.

Newshub understands that moves are underway to try and return some of the commemorations to Te Tii Marae.

That won't happen this year due to the election, but changes could be made in 2021 if Labour is still in government.

But as we saw this year, it's not just the location that brings a political scuffle.