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.
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?”