National's candidate for Hamilton East, under fire for previous anti-fluoride and anti-mandate comments, has told RNZ his comments in the past were "rash" but would not say when he had changed his mind.
RNZ revealed Ryan Hamilton had voiced support for groups that spread misinformation about fluoridation.
In social media posts, Hamilton claimed Covid-19 deaths data had been inflated and once said poverty was not a reason to fluoridate water because "most lower socio economics filled their tap water with Raro".
RNZ has put multiple interview requests to Ryan Hamilton since the beginning of last week. In a brief interview on Monday, Hamilton he said he had apologised for the remarks and now stated a clear position.
"Look, I made this comment nearly a decade ago, and it was a rash comment, and I apologise for it.
"Our focus right now is on the economy, cost of living, law and order, and improving health and education outcomes. That's really all my focus is on at the moment - and winning, winning the election and improving our party vote position."
In another post, Hamilton praised 'Fluoride Free Hamilton and NZ', a group that has published extensive misinformation about fluoride. In 2016, he said he was "with the minority" in opposition to fluoride and had been for 22 years.
The posts were revealed in a new episode of Undercurrent, an RNZ podcast released on Monday.
Asked if he agreed with Luxon that fluoridation was "incredibly safe", at first Hamilton would only say he was "100 percent behind our leader, and support him ... I've answered your question."
Asked directly if fluoridation was safe, he said "yes".
He refused to say when his mind had been changed, however, despite being asked multiple times.
"I feel like I've answered your question, the when isn't important, what matters is that I'm behind National, I'm supporting our leader, and we're keen to win this election and get on with the issues that really matter."
Asked what previous connections he had to other political parties, Hamilton said he had another call coming through, and hung up.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon on Monday confirmed Hamilton was still a candidate for the party.
"Yes, he is ... his comments were from about 10 years ago, they were entirely inappropriate and he was wrong, he's subsequently apologised for those remarks," Luxon said.
"Our position on fluoride is very much aligned with the government, which is that we have supported the government moving fluoride management from local councils to the Director-General of the Ministry of Health.
"But his comments were wrong, and inappropriate, and it's right that he's apologised."
Luxon, asked what Hamilton's views were now, he said the candidate's position was that of the party.
Hamilton had "come out very clearly and said that very strongly, that actually fluoridation in water is important, it should be led by our Ministry of Health and not local councils," Luxon said.
"If everyone had to have a perfect record, we'd have nobody in Parliament."
Luxon was challenged over National's criticism of Labour MP Deborah Russell, who had argued against removing tax deductibility for landlords, but changed her view after she entered Parliament.
He said that case was different because Russell was a tax expert, whereas with Hamilton "I'd suggest he's not an expert of fluoridation".
"She's also ... associate Revenue [Minister] I think it was, she's also a member of Parliament, and she's part of the financial team that is in government.
"He's changed his position on fluoride, and he's also acknowledged and apologised for those comments."
Read more of RNZ's full election coverage:
- Caucus podcast
- Poll of polls and donations data
- Guide to party policies
- What you need to know about post-election negotiations
In 2021, National MPs voted in favour of a bill giving the Director-General of Health powers to enforce fluoridation of water. Luxon was the party's local government spokesperson on the topic at the time, and said then he shared concerns about "rampant misinformation" on the topic.
Luxon, at a media conference on Monday, appeared not to be aware of Hamilton's more recent comment from 2016.
"He may have been, but our position in the National Party is very clear, that we are pro-fluoride, it needs to be managed by the Ministry of Health in consultation with local communities."
In a series of social media comments, Hamilton also made it clear he was opposed to the National Party's position on mandates.
Luxon said he was not aware of Hamilton's comment of "well said" to a post saying the National Party leader needed to explain the party's support of vaccine mandates for some roles.
"His position was that he actually is fully vaxxed, himself, he was a local councillor, he was arguing at the time, as I understand it, that actually people should be able to come into council buildings whether they were vaccinated or unvaccinated, Luxon said.
"We're bringing a great set of candidates to Parliament, you know, you can look at our candidates up and down this country."
RNZ has put multiple interview requests to Ryan Hamilton since the beginning of last week.
Luxon confirmed he first heard about the Hamilton story in the last few days, but said he was "unaware" that Hamilton had not answered RNZ's calls.
"As I understand my media team have been engaging with media on it ... I'll follow that up with you after this."