An invitation to address the Taradale Branch of the U3A on Wednesday gave me a welcome reason for a flying visit to Hawke's Bay.
Wednesday was the kind of glorious winter's day that features strongly in my memories of an idyllic Hawke's Bay childhood and for some inexplicable reason returning to Hawke's Bay seems to put the world into perspective for me and matters which usually escape my attention got noticed.
The large audience that assembled in the Taradale Town Hall asked some of the most thoughtful and penetrating questions I've ever encountered at a kind of meeting I speak at often.
Thinking about what had been said on the flight back to Auckland, I realised that a point made at the meeting about New Zealand's very high rate of incarceration and how it related to the stressed state of too many New Zealand families, and especially Māori families, was something that should have leapt out at me long ago.
I don't know what proportion of prisoners spent their childhood as wards of the state (or whatever the current label is - CYFs kids or Oranga Tamariki clients) but I'd be certain that if it isn't a majority, it would be close to it.
I'm going to get some research done, but my guess is that the rapid growth in prisoner numbers was preceded a decade before by a matching upsurge in the number of state wards.
The recently publicised incident of resistance to an Oranga Tamariki "uplift" of a new born baby at Hawke's Bay Hospital was agonising to watch and exposed the tip of a social iceberg. Statistically, we were probably watching the arrival in the world of a prisoner of tomorrow.
Given the cost of keeping someone in jail – now in excess of $110,000 a year - it would obviously be cost-effective to offer the mum whose baby was scheduled for the "uplift" 24-hour wrap-around help to remedy a situation that the court ruled warranted the confiscation of her infant.
This is what the billion dollars plus of new expenditure on Oranga Tamariki is about and I admired the approach of Tracey Martin, the New Zealand First minister, who had to defend her department and will be responsible for overseeing change.
Those who are outraged at what happened in Hastings, should listen carefully to what Martin says and give her a chance to devise alternatives that don't cost lives.
After an excellent lunch in Havelock North, I caught up with some neglected relatives who all seem to be doing well in what looks like a prospering region and then cruised around musing about the recent Green Party and National Party Conferences having just been leaked the latest internal polling undertaken by the Labour Party's excellent pollsters.
Reflecting the apparent state of the Hawke's Bay economy, more than double the number of voters think the country is on the right track than those who say we're on the wrong track. This number is an important long-term predictor of voting behaviour so the three governing parties should be pleased.
The Greens, who call their annual conference an AGM, are tracking well and though their meeting was slightly marred by some obscure featherbrain who hasn't worked out that his party is now in government for the first time, are recording 7 per cent support, a bit up on their election tally and secure in their parliamentary representation.
New Zealand First, also on 7 per cent is equally secure and, I believe, benefiting from solid performances by ministers Martin, Ron Mark and Shane Jones in support of the still telegenic Winston.
The National Party used their conference to launch a new slogan which was so banal I forgot it immediately. When I looked on their website to remind myself of what it was, it didn't feature there so maybe they've forgotten it too.
It's obvious that though there is disquiet in the National Party caucus about Simon Bridges no one has the support to roll him at this point even after he labelled the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a "buffoon".
Bridges obviously thought that the word could have a positive connotation (it doesn't) and the British media had fun with synonyms like clown, moron, idiot and nincompoop.
The straw that Bridges clings on to is the continuing solid support for National in the TVNZ poll which put the party at 45 per cent shortly after its conference.
Labour's internal poll conducted at about the same time had National at 39 per cent and is likely to be closer to reality, but whatever happens on election night 2020, National's killer problem is the lack of any potential coalition partner beyond New Zealand First which the senior National Party MPs seem to detest.
It's just this kind of impasse that undermines leaders in any political party.
Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.