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A new voice . . . University of Otago student Liam Wairepo (21) has been selected as the Labour Party's Waitaki candidate for this year's election. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A 21-year-old university student has been selected as Labour’s candidate in Waitaki for this year’s election.

Liam Wairepo will take on incumbent Jacqui Dean, who won the seat for National by 12,816 votes in 2017.

Mr Wairepo, who grew up in Tauranga, but has lived in Otago for about five years, said he was “incredibly humbled” to have been selected as Labour’s Waitaki candidate.

“Waitaki has been a special place for me and is a diverse electorate in terms of landscape, being one of the biggest electorates in the country,” he said.

“I am excited to get out into the community and listen to the feedback and the voices of the people of Waitaki.”

At present, Mr Wairepo is studying towards a bachelor of arts in politics and a bachelor of science at the University of Otago.

For the past two and a-half years, he has been residential leader at Salmond College in Dunedin. He is also involved in Thursdays in Black Otago, a campus student-led movement against sexual violence, the Presbyterian Student Soul oversight committee, and is chairman of Southern Young Labour.

Mr Wairepo said he was standing for Waitaki to be a “strong, fresh and new voice”, especially for people who felt disconnected from politics.

Waitaki, and Oamaru in particular, had grown and changed a lot in recent years, now boasting a “beautifully diverse population with a large Pasifika community, and a great local economy”, he said.

One of his key concerns was wellbeing, especially in the electorate’s rural sector.

“I want to ensure everyone has access to mental healthcare and support,” he said.

“Older farmers and rural men are our most at risk people to suicide and it is something that is not openly talked about. This needs to change.”

He was also passionate about addressing the district’s methamphetamine problem.

“We need to send a strong message to people that this will not be tolerated in our communities and we need to have a strong and staunch stance on this,” he said.

Labour’s Waitaki electorate chairwoman, Sally Hope, said the committee was “delighted to have a young, vibrant and talented candidate to campaign for Labour and help return a Labour-led Government”.

“The coalition government has achieved a great deal and there is still more to do,” Mrs Hope said.

Oamaru businesswoman Zelie Allan was the Labour Party’s 2017 candidate. The party had a 30.17% share of the party votes in the electorate.

The National Party captured a majority (54.0%) of the party votes in 2017, down 3.2 percentage points on its party vote share in 2014.

Mrs Dean has been confirmed as National’s candidate. She is seeking a sixth term as the Member of Parliament for Waitaki.

The boundaries of the Waitaki district have also changed for the 2020 general election, with Clutha-Southland gaining the Alexandra and Clyde area from Waitaki.