'Woke madness': Real estate agent challenges compulsory Māori course

Real estate agent Janet Dickson called the course 'woke madness'. Supplied photo
Real estate agent Janet Dickson called the course 'woke madness'. Supplied photo
A lawyer representing a real estate agent who is facing harsh sanctions for refusing to complete a compulsory Māori culture course says it is unlawful, irrelevant and breaches her rights.

Janet Dickson, who faces a five-year ban for refusing to complete a compulsory short course in Māori culture and tikanga, is fighting her case through a judicial review in the High Court at Wellington.

Dickson’s lawyer Nikki Pender told the court Dickson had a 30-year career in real estate with no disciplinary action.

She said real estate work was a vocation and a calling, citing her Presbyterian values.

“She’s taken a principled stand in this case, a courageous stand, one that has consequences for her because of her refusal to undertake a course which the Real Estate Authority has deemed to be mandatory,” Pender said.

Pender said Dickson resisted doing the course because she believed it was unlawful, wasn’t relevant to her work and breaches her rights.

She said there was no dispute the authority was poised to cancel Dickson’s licence and strike her name off the register - which would trigger a five-year ban, a statutory consequence. But, she said Dickson hadn’t misbehaved and didn’t pose a threat to the public.

The course that Dickson objected to is a one-and-a-half-hour compulsory professional development module called Te Kākano (The Seed).

She labelled the course “woke madness” in a February Facebook post and vowed to fight for her rights “to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else”.

Pender told the court the case highlighted her client wasn’t alone, as 92 other real estate agents were also refusing to do the course.

She said the case drew attention to the distortion in the real estate regulatory system, which she said had harsh and unjust outcomes.

The penalty for failing to complete the compulsory courses was out of proportion with the offending and had dire consequences.

“If they don’t complete their continuing education, they risk losing their ability to work, being struck off by the register,” she said.

Pender said under the current rules there was little opportunity for the authority to grant an exemption, even in cases where the agent already had experience in the area.

But Real Estate Authority lawyer Andrew Butler rejected the suggestion that the authority had overstepped its mandate with its ongoing training of real estate agents.

He told the court it was clear when Parliament passed the new law governing real estate agents in 2008, it intended the authority to be responsible for this training.

“The consequences are plainly set by parliament because it puts great weight on the importance of undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) at the same time as recognising that the place where CPD is going to be determined, is going to be by the specialist expert regulator.”

He said Dickson’s argument seemed to be that the course had no relevance and therefore she should be granted an exemption from attending it. Or that she doesn’t like the content and therefore she shouldn’t be required to listen to things that she didn’t agree with.

Butler said Te Kākano was the first of a three part diversity and inclusion series. It had been carefully constructed to navigate the different perspectives that relate to the discussions on Treaty principles. He said it includes a range of different ways of understanding what the content of the Treaty principles might be.

“The course navigates an area that’s known to be contentious but in a way that doesn’t say that any attendee must adopt one view or the other,” he said. It said people needed to be aware of the different understandings. It didn’t require those undertaking it to believe it, it simply provided an insight into the Māori world.

Dickson returned to her job at Harcourts Landed Howick after her lawyers successfully asked for an interim court order maintaining her practising licence until the outcome of today’s judicial review of the Real Estate Authority’s (REAs) continuing education rules.

The challenge is being backed by lobby group Hobson’s Pledge which is headed by former National Party leader Don Brash and sought donations of $50,000 to contribute to Dickson’s legal fund.

Brash told NZME today supporters had raised enough to fund the legal costs of Dickson’s case.

“These contributions were small dollar donations from a large number of supporters who were appalled at the way Janet Dickson (and others) have been treated by the Real Estate Authority,” he said.

Enlisted real estate agents must complete 10 hours of compulsory training as well as 10 hours of training from a list of elective topics each year to retain their licence.

Te Kākano was one of the two compulsory topics for 2023 but has since moved into the elective category for 2024 - meaning it’s not compulsory for new real estate agents.

The judicial review before Justice Helen McQueen is expected to finish today although the decision will be reserved.

 - By Catherine Hutton

 - Open Justice reporter - Wellington