23 Feb 2024

Realtor Janet Dickson facing five-year ban for refusing Māori values course

10:51 am on 23 February 2024

By Jeremy Wilkinson, Open Justice multimedia journalist of NZ Herald

Janet Dickson.

Janet Dickson is seeking a judicial review of the Real Estate Authority's power to enforce cultural training for the country's realtors. Photo: NZ Herald

A real estate agent is facing a five-year ban after refusing to complete a compulsory short course on Māori culture and tikanga.

Janet Dickson labelled the course "woke madness" in a Facebook post and said that she was going to fight for her rights "to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else".

Her refusal is based on concerns that an industry body can force its members to complete training "on a subject that is only peripherally connected to their job under threat of losing their right to work".

As part of that fight she's seeking a judicial review of the Real Estate Authority's power to enforce cultural training for the country's realtors.

As well as hiring a lawyer Dickson is backed by lobby group Hobson's Pledge which is headed by former National Party leader Don Brash.

According Hobson Pledge's website a judicial review could cost as much as $150,000 and is seeking donations of up to $50,000 to contribute to Dickson's legal fund and to get the process off the ground.

"Now is the time for collective resistance to safeguard the major principles of our democracy," the website reads.

"It is imperative to ensure that Janet's voice, and those similarly situated, are not silenced. We need a unified stand to uphold the fundamental values of professional autonomy and democratic freedoms."

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

"We have commenced the series with Te Kākano to provide licensees with an opportunity to develop or deepen their understanding of Māori culture, language and custom, particularly with respect to land, and an understanding of the historical context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi," an excerpt from the course outline reads.

"During each module you will move from a theoretical understanding to examples of the practical application of this programme into your workplace. You will have gained some background knowledge when the need arises to engage with Māori, local iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes), Māori land, sacred sites, and how this could relate to real estate transactions."

Enlisted real estate agents must complete two hours of compulsory training as well as eight 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.

Dickson works for Harcourt's International and its chief executive Bryan Thomson told NZME that he had completed the compulsory course.

"I think you learn new, and often important, information from any training you do," he said.

"For someone to take a stand like this then they must have a very strong view about it."

Thomson said that the REA was clear about agents' responsibilities when it came to completing compulsory training but some in the industry considered it "draconian" for someone to lose their licence for five years if they didn't complete it.

Hobson's Pledge head, Don Brash, also labelled the rule draconian.

"It's inappropriate for the REA to force people to do a course that's not relevant to their work," he told NZME.

He said believed "this law is nothing but an attempt to drive a particular worldview that is not the view of the majority of New Zealanders".

"We don't want a particular view of the world forced on anybody."

Brash said that it was likely that Hobson's Pledge would pick up any shortfall in the funding.

Poutaki Mātauranga Māori adviser at Waipapa Taumata Rau (the University of Auckland) Bernie O'Donnell told NZME it was important for realtors to understand Māori cultural values because they are in the business of selling land.

"You can't go into that profession blindly in Aotearoa ... it's important they understand the history of their country," he said.

"Māori are the indigenous people of this land and in this new world we have to start making an effort to understand their worldview.

"And even though there's a huge history to this land people just want to get down to business."

O'Donnell said it was a shame that some people didn't want to engage in understanding their country's history.

"The next iteration of racism is ignorance," he said.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi designed the course but directed questions to the Real Estate Authority which chooses the courses that are made compulsory for licensees.

Its chief executive, Belinda Moffat, said that it was aware of Dickson's case.

"The issues raised by Ms Dickson relate to continuing education requirements under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 which are conditions of a licence," she said.

"As this matter may be the subject of proceedings, we are unable to comment further."

Dickson herself referred comment to her lawyers at Franks Ogilvie in Wellington who said in a statement that they'd been engaged to file a judicial review to challenge the REA's continuing education rules.

"This challenge argues that aspects of the rules are invalid, REA is acting outside its powers and its purported attempt to compel real estate agents to undertake this course unreasonably cuts across agents' right to freedom of expression," their statement reads.

"The judicial review raises important public law issues and is likely to impact all licensed real estate agents."

- This story was first published by NZ Herald.