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NBR Rich List highlights inequality, claims Andrew Little

The rising wealth of those on the National Business Review Rich List raises questions about growing inequality in New Zealand, Labour MP Andrew Little says.

The 2013 Rich List is bigger and richer than ever before with the total minimum net worth of members now at $47.9 billion, an increase of $3.5 billion on last year’s list.

Graeme Hart again tops the list with an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion, up $400 million from last year.

The surge in Rich Lister wealth is mainly due to the substantial gains of most investment classes – the New Zealand equity market returned 25.9% last year and has added another 10% in the first half of this year.

Mr Little, Labour's spokesman on justice and tourism, says he does not have an issue with the Rich List celebrating those who have created wealth but the plight of the less well-off should not be forgotten.

“I’d never criticise or challenge anyone who has done well for themselves,” he says. 

“Where it becomes a problem is at a time we’ve seen those on lower incomes getting squeezed, with the median wage going down for the second consecutive year.

“More people are being paid less than what they were the year before. There’s a real question about the distribution of wealth and the concentration of wealth.”

Mr Little, a former boss of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, is seen as a potential Labour leader.

Business friendly
He is also considered one of the more business-friendly Labour MPs, compared to many of his colleagues who have academic backgrounds and little knowledge of the productive sector.

He says he has great respect for those who have made it to the Rich List by working hard, creating innovation and putting their own capital at risk.

“Those who have generated wealth through leveraging debt I wouldn’t be cheerleading at all.”

Mr Little says people can succeed in business without benefiting the wider community, for example, by damaging the environment.

He also sees an issue in the growing pay gap between chief executives and lower-level staff.

“Those who put themselves and their own wealth at risk, I admire that. It takes real strength of character.

“Those in large corporates get the benefit of large salaries but the risk is very small. I just think it’s an increasing issue.

“I get the argument that if you don’t pay those big salaries you won’t get good people but if people want the benefits of real riches, why don’t they take their own risk and do the things real investors do?”

More by Niko Kloeten

Comments and questions

Little “I get the argument that if you don’t pay those big salaries you won’t get good people but if people want the benefits of real riches, why don’t they take their own risk and do the things real investors do?”

So, then, who would the CEOs of these companies Andrew if they left and set up their own businesses?

The next younger(?) person on the ladder, who would be prepared to do the role for less. Do you really think a CEO in a large company (200+) can really do it on their own?

Their salary should be limited to 10x the lowest salary in the business.

If you own your own business and risk your own capital then your income is unrestricted if you are successful.

Most CEOs skills are those of a bureaucrat rather than an entrepreneur. For every Sam Morgan there are 100 Ronald Trotters.

Shane, you clearly have no knowledge of Sir Ron Trotter and his business life. Suggest you do a little reading and be amazed.

The rich do not create wealth. They create ways of creaming it off everyone else.

“I’d never criticise or challenge anyone who has done well for themselves,” he says.

Calling business owners "parasites" was really a term of affection, was it?

Little can't be trusted, nor has he any credibility. He can't even win an electorate seat. He's a failed union boss, parachuted into a Labour caucus through the "donations" the various unions provide for Labour.

If Labour think Little might be the answer to the Shearer problem, then Labour have an even bigger issue than what they think is the answer.

Misinformation? Who has used the word parasite here?

Google is your friend... look for yourself...

I think you will find Andrew was using the word parasite in regards to debt leveraged raiders who bring no new technology into the country - as foreign investment was supposed to do - but instead buy only existing assets and take dividends or interest out of the country and contribute only to our current account deficit.

An interesting follow-up article would include the charities/foundations each Rich Lister supports. Would be a good public image for the business community, too.

Hi Chris,

The 2013 NBR Rich List does include details of the philanthropic activities of many of our Rich Lister’s. It is a very aspirational and inspirational read, I hope that you enjoy it.

Talk about a wet blanket. Just say 'well done' to those who are smart enough to create wealth and shut up after that.

You miss the point. The issue being raised isn't about some people doing well (good luck to them), but about rising inequality and the upward redistribution of wealth (at the moment about 10% own 52% of the wealth of the country). It can only be bad for the business community if the spending power of the bulk of the population continues to be steadily and deliberately reduced.

Maybe we should subscribe to redistribution then and steal the wealth off those that have earned their wealth through thrift, hard work, risk taking, etc.

How did a tow-truck driver and panel beater aged 16, then go on to becoming the wealthiest person in NZ, then?

Hard work, risk taking, learning, using all the 24 hours in each day - because what's the bet, at aged 16, he wasn't anywhere near as wealthy?

Funny how the socialists decry the capitalists and those wanting to improve their lot. But remind them that philanthropy and welfare is only possible because of successful capitalists willingly sharing their wealth and they get in a right tizzy. Remind them how well communist countries have fared over the centuries and are doing today - and that winds them up even more. One could almost make a sport of it...

I agree. Let's stop all this nonsense about debate and free speech.

Well Done :)

A comment from a person who has never had a real job, or created anything other than alleged envy.

There is nothing alleged about Little's envy; it is solid core socialism.

He would.

The NBR Rich Listers are the individuals who provide the employment for Little's supporters; and the welfare for the unmotivated, who also support the likes of Little and Labour, Greens, Mana parties and would likely vote MInto for mayor of Auckland.

Not true. Most employment is provided by small and medium-sized enterprises.

Exactly and they are really struggling.

The remainder of NZ citizens who are not on the list should thank their lucky stars that we have at least some individuals who are clever risk takers who provide capital for production, ideas, employment and the tax for hospitals, schools and benefits.

Congratulations to them all. You must not, and cannot, take from the risk takers and give to those who will not take a risk at all.

It would be very interesting to see a list of how much tax those on the NBR Rich List paid. I would have much more respect for their achievements if they paid their fair share of tax.

And their fair share of tax is.........??????

Chris. What is their fair share? I can't remember the exact figures but the tax task force said that something like 10% of tax payers pay about 80% of the tax take.

That's about right. Those who think Little will make their lives better, generally pay little or no tax already.

Exactly, and the so called Rich Listers certainly pay more tax than the likes of Unite Union and the Meat Worker's Union, which are still five years delinquent in filing their annual financial returns...

Little needs to clear up his own union backyard before trying to throw political stones at glass houses.

Just for starters, I would be happy for them to pay the appropriate PAYE and company tax rates on their incomes, rather than having in place a whole myriad of tax avoidance structures.

After all, even beneficiaries pay tax at their full equivalent rate!

I agree

Aside from the fact that a good few of the NZers appearing on the Rich List do not live in NZ, and haven't for some time and therefore pay no tax in NZ (other than the businesses they own here), there is the small fact that 5% of households here already pay 47% of net income tax and 15% pay 75% of net income tax. Households with incomes under $60K are net beneficiaries. How much is a fair share, Chris?

See my comments above, but you make all sorts of sweeping assumptions. People and companies focus on tax minimisation to reduce their tax ciontribution as much as they can. I don't call that fair. And not all hoseholds under $60K are net beneficiaries. Single people continue to be discriminated in terms of tax in this country, plus two people working on low incomes with no kids. Plus remember that even beneficiaries pay tax, with or without household support for their children.

Some of Mr Little's comments are refreshing and clearly at odds with what the Greens may think. As someone said today of Shearer, he needs to take on the Greens and show them who will be boss if, or when, they manage to get into government.

Little despises those who create wealth through leveraging debt. Isn't that the opportunity for the working class who don't actually have capital to put at risk? So he doesn't really want workers to borrow funds to start up their own ventures and climb the ladder?
His distaste about CEOs and the salary gap between management and "the workers" surely now applies to himself?

What a pity it is that Mr Little and his ilk would rather the rich listers didn't exist, rather than encouraging his followers to reach similar heights.

Little by name, little by nature.

Wealth is an inherently relative metric. So while 'unfair' distributions of wealth can not be easily changed without impacting on the property rights of individuals across all of society, it is also true that too much wealth in the hands of too few is a dysfunctional state of affairs.

Quite the conundrum. While the govt. is pandering to big business (or big labour) they risk stomping out the little guy, the SMEs that produce 80% of wealth, jobs and innovation. Henry Ford knew that if you pay your workers decently you create the audience for your products. Wiping out the middle class wipes out the economy. Govt. should not do much but at least don't stomp on the little guy.

Much merit in your comment.

And therein lies many of my concerns, as the middle class are steadily being wiped out in New Zealand, while SMEs are really struggling.

The only way to make us all equal, is to make us all poor.

Except Andrew, who wants his $200K salary to look after us all.

Probably do you some good to create some understanding of what it is like.

The "parasites" are paying his salary....

He's not saying anything that's not entirely obvious, or remotely contentious. He's saying wealth is good, self-achievement is good, and that everyone deserves an equal chance.

Meanwhile, we have a PM who benefitted from the state housing and welfare schemes, who does not respect this basic aspect of democracy.

And we have a minister of social development who has concertedly destroyed the very elements of welfare upon which she may lay the blame of her success.

Hear - hear - time for a Little justice - I think given his balanced statements over many years - in defending citizens and businesses of legitimate enterprise - that are currently being eaten alive by financial trickery - that Andrew Little deserves a shot at leading Labour back to its very founding ideals - instead of those in Labour that have been completely conned by foreign-financial-free-raiders that bring only money and demand more of it in return - without providing any new technologies we cant provide ourselves - as foreign investment was meant to be - not the debt leveraged buying up of existing assets to extract rent and increase our current account deficit - currently entirely interest bearing - entirely private foreign institution loan based - not to mention.

Don't know who would have thought it, but I am beginning to like Andrew. I wish him well in politics.