A large group of vocal protesters disrupted a meeting opposing the introduction of Māori wards in Tauranga today.
The controversial meeting was initially organised in a bid to gather more signatures for a petition against Māori wards.
However, the petition had already gathered enough valid signatures to prompt the poll before the meeting started.
Hundreds of people turned out to the meeting at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club, some holding signs saying "No to the petition" and "Say yes to Māori wards".
Speakers including Hobson's Pledge spokesman Don Brash, Hobson's Pledge spokeswoman Casey Costello and former New Conservative member Elliot Ikilei all took the stage to speak - receiving praise and heckles from the two sides.
A large group of people supporting Māori wards filled the back of the room waving signs, breaking into waiata and rebutting statements made by the speakers.
One man even stood at the front with a tino rangatiratanga flag draped over his body.
One speaker told protesters to show "dignity and respect" during some of the interruptions.
Boos erupted from some of the protesters lining the back of the room when Brash stood up to speak.
He told the crowd he passionately believed that all New Zealanders should have equal political rights.
One scoffed and yelled that the current system had meant the loss of te reo.
Brash asked the audience if they wanted racial segregation in Tauranga to which many yelled: "No!".
However, protesters stirred at this, with one yelling that there was: "No equality in the confiscation of our land."
Brash's main point was that: "Māori were just as capable of being elected to Parliament" as everybody else.
He said that was reflected in the current Parliament which had seen a massive increase in Maori representation in the past 15 years, bar the Māori electorates.
He said creating separation based on ethnicity was not the way.
Brash mentioned how locally Simon Bridges and Winston Peters, who were both of Māori descent, were voted in - showing that race was not on the mind of Tauranga voters.
He said: "New Zealanders don't want it [Māori Wards] and Māori did not need to be consulted for every decision that was made."
Western Bay of Plenty councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, who organised the meeting, was critical of those disrupting the meeting with outbursts.
She said: "Instead of screaming, people should think about how they can support their Māori colleagues to get to the table. If they don't listen, they won't learn.
"We must work together to see each other as equals."
She told the Bay of Plenty Times the objective of the meeting had been to "stimulate debate" but that had been nearly impossible with the outbursts.
Māori wards supporter Buddy Mikaere had told organisers that he hoped it would be a peaceful protest.
Mikaere said earlier this week the presence was not intended to be confrontational but rather a "quiet" and "dignified" demonstration of support for Māori wards in Tauranga.
However, continuous calls from protesters that the meeting was "one-sided" meant Mikaere was asked whether he would like to speak.
As he went to take the stage, a number of audience members got up and left.
He began his speech in te reo before stating that no other council wards needed consultation or received as much backlash but the sheer number of protesters showed that "the tide is turning".
The petition was a "big waste of time" because legislation was on the way to overthrow the system, he said.
"Your day is done," he told the audience.
Protesters clapped and cheered at this, with one yelling at audience members that "it's not the 1950s anymore".
Speaker Casey Costello said they had gathered to speak on the issues of democracy and if "separatism was justified".
This caused uproar among protesters with one audience member turning around to tell them to "pull their heads in".
Protesters and Tauranga homeless advocates Tracey Carlton and Pip Brook were both at the meeting with signs that said: "Say yes to Māori Ward in Tauranga Moana, say no to petition".
Brook said: "You can't have equality in democracy without equity and this was a way to address structural imbalances in Tauranga."
In August, Tauranga City Council voted to establish a Māori ward for the next election but this was met with a petition, aimed at gathering enough signatures to force a referendum to overturn the decision.
Petition organisers had already submitted the document.
Brash confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times earlier this week that Hobson's Pledge financially supported petition organisers to "fund flyers and newspaper advertising".