Demystifying the law with David Mejia-Canales
Walking into a Member of Parliament's office, not to mention Victoria’s Parliament House, is undoubtedly intimidating. The thought of talking to public officials brings to mind suited individuals that probably aren’t interested in your problems -- but David Mejia-Canales defies that expectation. Clothed in khaki pants, a stylish blazer and white Converse, he immediately puts you at ease and, according to him, that’s his job.
“You need to be approachable … we work for the people. Everyone has to have access to their Member of Parliament (MP). It’s our duty to make sure that their interests are represented. It really suits my do-gooder vibe,” laughs David.
David works as an Electorate Officer for Ellen Sandell MP. His role is a surprising mix of casework management, counselling and “thinking about how we can do taxes better [than the current government]. Day-to-day he works on policy development relating to treasury and finance, while also meeting with anyone who falls within the Melbourne electorate to link them to the appropriate services and help them solve any issues they’re experiencing.
“It has been a lot of learning,” says David. “At the moment, because there’s an election coming up in November, we’re thinking about tax -- what do we want taxes to be, what would we do if we were in government to make the system work for us instead of us working for the system? The other part is talking to people on behalf of the MP to discuss everything from opening churches to writing letters of support for domestic violence victims.”
“People don’t necessarily understand … how government works -- they just need help,” explains David. “We help people who fall within the catchment area of the electorate ... or if a lobby group wants to meet about a submission they have for the Victorian budget, I’ll meet with them regardless of where they are because that falls under my portfolio.”
Having studied both anthropology and law, the role is the perfect mix of David’s skills and experience, however it’s not a job he ever thought he’d have. Like most children, at some point during his primary education David visited Parliament through a school trip. And though he thought the building was awe-inspiring he also thought he “had no business being there”. But growing up in public housing had instilled in him a desire to help people and he soon found himself working at a law firm, unfortunately it wasn’t long before he realised that wasn’t where he truly wanted to be.
After taking time off to travel and re-evaluate his goals, David was ready to move forward; and when he saw his current role advertised, he was immediately interested. “I never thought I was going to get it," says David. "The application, the candidates, they were a list as long as my arm. But I applied for it anyway thinking ... I studied law, I studied people -- I can do this really well."
For David, every day brings new challenges and triumphs. He admits his desire to help everyone is occasionally frustrating, because he can’t. But achieving large-scale goals serves as a fantastic reminder that no matter what happens on the tough days, he is helping to create change.
“There was a lady living in a public home and she had really bad arthritis. She couldn’t bathe herself because there was a bathtub and she couldn’t step into the bath. So her family would have to take her to the local swimming pool just so she could bathe and have a shower … we eventually got a good outcome for her but it took a year. And that was really difficult because her family would come into the office once a week and cry and I couldn’t do anything for them immediately.”
“But you do have really good days where you achieve really big things. One of the things that I put forward to my MP that made it to Parliament was an inquiry into how we’re doing public housing. That was something that I pushed for because I grew up in public housing and it’s something that’s really important to me,” says David. “You sort of go home and think … I did something today. The reason why I went to law school was to do something that was helpful and useful, working at a law firm was not that, but getting an inquiry through the Victorian Parliament? That’s pretty amazing.”
One of David’s most important goals, during and outside of work, is making the law more accessible. As a part of this he has created his own website, AfterSalazer, to comment on and explain different aspects of the law. “It’s a natural extension of my job because we have to do a lot of educating on the different levels of government … and I love that,” says David. “I think when I did law at RMIT I got an excellent education, and I’m probably the only the person in my family to have been educated to this level, so it’s really nice to be able to give that back to the community … It’s a moral obligation. Why should I keep all this knowledge to myself? Especially when it’s something as fundamental as the law.”
David’s advice for anyone looking to work in the same field as him is simple: you need to be a good person. "You need to be empathetic and kind," says David. "That aside, you also have to have a good understanding of social policy as well as legal and parliamentary procedure."
If you're interested in learning more about David or the law, check out his blog: aftersalazar.com/blog
David Mejia-Canales completed the RMIT Juris Doctor.