What was meant to be a workshop to discuss future plans of Statoil marine exploration off the west coast of the Far North turned into a mini war of hapu members against their own iwi organisation.

The hui, organised by Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, came to an abrupt end yesterday when one anti-oil drilling protester upended tables and told the Statoil representatives to leave in no uncertain terms.

Statoil's senior vice-president of exploration Pal Haremo, and members of his exploration team, were faced with an onslaught of accusations and threats from the passionate group of around 50 who gathered, along with runanga members, in the seminar room at the Te Ahu centre in Kaitaia.

Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi, who called the meeting a "workshop", stated the runanga's intentions for inviting the group to Kaitaia as a "chance to make sure we are armed with the information we need. It's a Government decision that's been made that we're living with. The runanga have already publicly opposed drilling. It would be folly of us to turn our backs now. At the end of the six-year exploration process we need to be prepared."


Kaumatua, kuia and members of the five hapu of the Far North got up and expressed their thoughts to both the Statoil representatives and the runanga.

Veteran activist Mike Smith spoke of the stupidity of the Government in granting the consent to Statoil and warned that the Norwegian oil giant would not get things all its own way in the Far North.

"We're going to attack you in the ports, in your ships, as you go out to sea. We are going to mount an unrelenting campaign against you. It's our social and environmental responsibility," Mr Smith said.

Anti-oil drilling activist Rueben Taipari Porter accused the runanga of having "secret" meetings, which they deny.

"I'm very upset we have to barge in here like visitors. We are tangata whenua. We shouldn't have to be like this in our own rohe. This is not how Maori conduct hui. You don't listen, this is a waste of time. And right now, Statoil, we're still enemies, not friends," Mr Porter said.

Dr Haremo said he appreciated the invitation and that he was impressed with the "engagement of our coming operations".

"We don't have any final answers," he said.

"First of all we are here to learn. What I want is to learn the views of the local people."

When asked by Mr Piripi if they would be open to listening to iwi before any testing begins, Dr Haremo replied: "Definitely. We would appreciate any information to mitigate and minimise risks to marine mammals."

He also added, "but I can't imagine we would have any scientific explanation that would stop us taking out seismic testing".

As Mr Piripi was closing the meeting and recommending they take it elsewhere to discuss further, a select group of protesters re-entered and assembled close in front of the Statoil panel's table.

One man upturned their table and proceeded to upturn the remaining tables while others sang a waiata.