An Auckland real estate agent is planning to take court action against her industry body for introducing mandatory te reo Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi training last year.

While many celebrated the move, Janet Dickson refused to complete it by the December deadline, and was told by the Real Estate Authority (REA) it would be required to cancel her licence for five years.

The online training, Te Kākano, was designed in partnership with Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and was 90-minutes long.

Tama Emery, a real estate agent based in Papakura, said it was a huge milestone for the industry, and he was disappointed to learn about the push-back.

“It’s not ideal and it’s a negative reflection on the industry itself because I believe there are key people with the REA and within our organisation that want to see te ao Māori brought to the forefront,” he said.

“The majority of the Te Kākano segment was around Te Tiriti o Waitangi, understanding the three articles and how each article is relevant to the industry and to tangata whenua.”

Dickson declined an interview but her lawyer told 1News in a statement they believed last year’s mandatory training unreasonably cut across rights to freedom of expression.

“Mrs Dickson has instructed us to file a judicial review challenge of the REA’s continuing education rules and direction that all real estate agents, without exemption, must take a prescribed cultural training course or otherwise lose their licence for five years,” they said.

“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.

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

Training now optional

The Real Estate Authority hasn’t yet revoked Dickson’s licence but it has made the training optional in 2024.

It told 1News the decision had nothing to do with the legal challenge, and was part of standard process.

Emery was not aware the REA had removed the mandatory training when 1News spoke to him.

“That’s news to my ears. If that is the case, that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I think there’s definitely a need for a Māori perspective and a Māori lens within real estate. Being Māori is who I am. It belongs here.”

Other professionals, including Lawyer Max Harris, believed education in these fields was normal and valuable.

“It’s quite common now for lots of bodies in the health sector and in law, where I am, to have to have some sort of minimal understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te ao Māori to function,” he said.

“That’s because, as a professional, you want to be accessible to the public, you want to uphold good standards for all of the public.

“I think it’s been recognised that part of upholding those standards and being an upstanding member of modern Aotearoa New Zealand is to understand Te Tiriti and te reo Māori.”

Relevant to selling land

Awanui Te Huia, a te reo Māori lecturer at Victoria University, believed learning te reo Māori was absolutely relevant to real estate work.

“Te reo Māori is prolific in every industry. Māori are everywhere. We are in every stage of the economic scale. So, of course, we are going to be people buying property,” she said.

“It’s kind of naive to think that this isn’t a space for te reo Māori or that this isn’t a space for Te Tiriti o Waitangi — thinking about the fact that these agents are selling land.”

REA chief executive, Belinda Moffat, was unable to comment in detail about the Dickson 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.”