Daniel Mahoney

Daniel’s study of Law, humanities and languages while building leadership skills has led him to a key role in international policy.

Young man smiling against rural backdrop

Growing up in a multicultural household, I was always interested in New Zealand’s impact internationally, so majoring in International Relations and Spanish seemed like a good fit. It wasn’t until I started studying Law, however, that I began to appreciate the impact international jurisdictions have on New Zealand’s legal system, and vice versa. Studying Law was also not unlike learning a new language. Alongside a new set of vocabulary, it has shaped the way I think, communicate, and see the world around me. Studying in Wellington offered an extensive range of public and international law electives. While learning about the politics of the global multilateral system, I was able to gain insight into the legal frameworks that underpin it.

Aside from the huge range of course options on offer, what stood out the most from my time studying were the opportunities to put learning into practice both inside and outside the lecture theatre. While mock moots, negotiations, client interviews, and international arbitrations pushed me outside my comfort zone, I was also able to build my intercultural competence through initiatives like the Victoria International Leadership Programme. As part of the programme, I interned with the Embassy of Spain and later completed an exchange in Bogotá, Colombia, with the support of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Latin America.

Outside of study, I was fortunate to volunteer with the Wellington Community Justice Project, presenting modules in high schools and alternative education providers on tenancy, consumer, and employment law. I also spent a year as the Careers Officer for the Victoria Law Students’ Society. Both experiences were incredibly rewarding and gave me a sense of the range of career pathways available to graduates. They also reinforced my desire to work in the public sector where I felt I could best contribute to work that directly impacts the lives of people and communities. This led to roles in the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner and then later at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

I am currently a Policy Analyst in MPI’s International Environment team. My team and I represent New Zealand’s interests on sustainable agriculture and forestry in multilateral fora and international bodies such as the UN. My particular focus is on supporting partnerships with other countries to increase global ambition on these issues and ensure a level playing field for New Zealand’s primary sector producers.

The knowledge and skills I gained from my time at university have been fundamental to my roles in the public sector so far. Since working at MPI, I have had roles as the desk officer for Latin America, helping with MPI’s preparations for hosting APEC in 2021, and supporting a review of the trans-Tasman joint food regulatory system with Australia. My language skills and understanding of international politics, multilateral systems, and international law have helped me to quickly take on new roles and run with them. In my current role, I regularly use negotiation and text-analysis skills learnt at university in work on New Zealand’s free trade agreement negotiations.

COVID-19 has greatly impacted my work in that some international travel and receiving visiting officials would usually be a part of my role. Despite the ‘jet lag’ from late night and early morning virtual meetings, however, I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing interesting and meaningful work—particularly given its focus on global environmental, climate, and food security challenges.

My advice to students contemplating studying Law, International Relations, and languages would be to pursue the courses and opportunities that interest you the most. There’s often a perception that careers are linear and with it the pressure to choose courses that are perceived as the most ‘practical’ or ‘employable.’ The reality is that the skills and experience you gain from study are applicable to a myriad of roles. No one course or experience is ever wasted, and you stand to develop the most by seizing the opportunities that excite you, both academically and outside of study.