'Woke madness:' Real estate agent facing five-year ban challenges compulsory Māori culture course

“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 breached 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.

‘Woke madness’

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


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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, 92 other real estate agents had completed all the other training requirements, except for the Māori course as of December 2023, for a range of reasons.

But the authority says only five agents lost their licences last year for failing to complete the course.

Lawyer Nikki Pender appearing for real estate agent Janet Dickson.  Photo / RNZ
Lawyer Nikki Pender appearing for real estate agent Janet Dickson. Photo / RNZ

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.

‘It’s not about indoctrination’

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.”


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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.

“It’s not about indoctrination, it’s about raising awareness and understanding,” he said.

Real Estate Authority lawyer Andrew Butler in the Wellington High Court.  Photo / RNZ
Real Estate Authority lawyer Andrew Butler in the Wellington High Court. Photo / RNZ

Turning to the issue of penalty, Butler said it had been submitted the five-year ban facing Dickson was harsh. But he said that penalty had been determined by Parliament, not the authority. The consequences of failing to complete the education requirements were well-known and could have been so easily avoided if Dickson had done the 90-minute course.

Butler said the consequences of not doing the course were well known to Dickson and she made a principled choice.


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“At the heart of her challenge, she shouldn’t be made to do a course like this,” he said.

Butler said Dickson’s right hadn’t been breached. He said the right to freedom of expression didn’t mean that Dickson could say that she shouldn’t be made to receive information that she didn’t agree with, especially in a professional capacity.

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 (REA) 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.


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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. Instead, Butler told the court, this year the second part is compulsory for all agents.

Justice Helen McQueen has reserved her decision.

Catherine Hutton is an Open Justice reporter, based in Wellington. She has worked as a journalist for 20 years, including at the Waikato Times and RNZ. Most recently she was working as a media adviser at the Ministry of Justice.


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