Katikati Advertiser editor Chris Steel asked Western Bay mayor Garry Webber what he's been up while in isolation at his home in Ōmokoroa.

It seems donning an apron and rustling up a tasty meal in the kitchen is not an unfamiliar sight in the Webber household.

"I do a lot of cooking in the house. I enjoy it."

Carole, his wife is still busy doing voluntary work, all by phone. A lot of people she works with are vulnerable people, some may need medications or have appointments.


The phone takes a lot of his time, but Webber said, "the garden is tidier than it normally is, the lawn is getting mown more frequently and instead of maybe getting around to it, I'm getting it done. And If I get any downtime I work on my rocks."
Garry has a passion for gemstones and wood carving.

What's your favourite dish?
I prefer fish - mild fish curry on rice with vegetables included and I use a mixture of seafoods, whatever we can get from Sanfords at Sulphur Point when we can get there.
On the sweets side, I make a Christmas cake every year and soak the fruit for three months in dessert wine. I turn the mix regularly and I use ginger and figs to give it a bit of difference.

How has Carole found it in lockdown with you being at home more?
We've been married for nearly 50 years, so we're starting to get to know each other.

Using new technology has been a learning curve for Mayor Garry Webber, working from home.
Using new technology has been a learning curve for Mayor Garry Webber, working from home.

Have you learnt anything new in the first week?

Yes. I had to learn how to communicate on Zoom for meetings and using a lot of new technology. That's been an interesting learning curve.

Are people following the rules of lockdown on the whole?
In the main they are. Some are concerned about freedom campers which goes hand-in-hand with the kiwifruit industry. You have to understand the industry has to get the product picked and packed. We have to rely on itinerant workers and people from overseas and we have to be tolerant of that.

Freedom camping is a nationwide issue. Council decided they would be corralled - the Uretara Domain in Katikati, Commerce Lane car park, Te Puke
and Marine Park, Tauranga - this is so we know where these people are and they can be convinced of the right rules to follow to keep the kiwifruit industry healthy and get the work done. They are spread from Waihi Beach to Ōtamarakau - we've got them everywhere.

Maybe people are unhappy about our decision, but this is the best worst-case scenario, and at least the police can coral and monitor them. It's up to the kiwifruit operators under their "essential industry provisions" to manage accommodation facilities for their staff.


It's part of making the kiwifruit industry an essential service. It's up to every packhouse and every picking contractor to know where staff are going to when they are not on the job. It is part of the requirement of the industry being an essential service. Police can go to the industry person to find out if they are not in the pack house or orchard — where are they?

Miriam (Council's CEO) and our team have been talking to the Department of Internal Affairs, to ensure that protocol is put in place.

Is it business as usual for you?
Council still has to operate, we still have to work through this Pandemic. Ratepayers continue to have concerns to be addressed and we've got people working in a call centre so we get information back to them. We are mindful of Central Government stepping in and making sure superannuitants and beneficiaries get payments, which have increased a little.

A lot of money is coming from Central Government to support the economy.
We have to work out what is Local Government's role and how we manage our business in future.

Once we get back and our parks mown, our roads maintained, footpaths, new developments, they have to be funded and we have to work out how to keep the economy working for the significant majority.

The major feedback we are getting is compassionate, constructive and people are asking what can they do to help. They have recognised that council staff are out there providing essential services like our medical professionals and we celebrate that.

Government is asking Councils around New Zealand what projects we can start on quickly when we come out of this, to get people employed. We've looked at all projects - the Katikati bypass is a good example - that's got a designation. Can we get it lifted up the priority list? Equally the Athenree to Katikati cycleway and Katikati to Waihi Beach cycleway - what can we do as local government?

This takes money, yes, but there is also the social impact of people not being employed and parents not being able to pay school fees etc, that the wider community needs to consider. We need to look and make sure society continues to operate when we come out of this.

The sad fact is that some businesses are going to suffer. This was not wished upon any business or family so we have to step in to help these businesses and how do we make work available so they can earn a reasonable living.

Talking to politicians in Wellington, they have asked us what can we do collectively to stimulate the economy when we come out of lockdown.

Any advice for people during this unprecedented time in NZ?
Listen to Government instructions, stay in your bubble and look after people in your bubble. If we don't follow guidelines look at how NZ was decimated in the early 1900s when the flu went through.

It's at times like this people reflect on what they are missing out on; what is critical to them to survive in situations like this to be happy. Social interaction will return, think about what you can do to make things better. What can we do in future to make our communities better to live in.

If you're going to criticise somebody, ask yourself — am I trained, capable and have the ability to do the job I'm complaining about better than the person I am complaining about? It's time for reflection.

On a personal level what positives would you hope may come from this pandemic?
Yesterday has happened, but we can prepare for tomorrow. As a nation, we weren't well prepared for what we are facing with Covid-19.

We are learning from the kiwifruit industry that this is a serious situation. We have people living in accommodation where standards are less than acceptable. Is it fair and reasonable to make our industry workers sleep in a tent in the winter, not having a hot shower to go home to and three meals?

Are we being fair and considerate to those less fortunate than ourselves when we see circumstances like this? Kiwifruit people living in caravans, the homeless issue we've got — are we doing the right thing for our community?

There's going to be casualties in business and people need to accept that - we've got to do better next time. We've dodged a bullet but we need to learn in future, we could have closed the borders earlier.

Hindsight is great and we all use it but it is a critical point that we learn from that what has happened and we put in place processes so we are better prepared for next time.

A critical thing is to have accurate information and the community looks to people like yourself, a true and trusted source of news that they can rely on.