Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Fiercely rich give wealthy hard workers a bad name

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Rod Petricevic's company lost $450 million of investors' money, yet he lives in luxury. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rod Petricevic's company lost $450 million of investors' money, yet he lives in luxury. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealanders loathe being ripped off. If they go off to an honest day's work and see their neighbour on ACC for a bad back, knowing he's also getting paid under the counter for mowing lawns, it drives them crazy.

They hate seeing tourists being ripped off, even if it is through their own carelessness. Just print a story about an unlocked car where cameras, suitcases, passports were stolen, and donations flood in. We go mental if there's publicity about mongrels who break into houses while mourners are at funerals.

And we don't like seeing anyone purchase multiple houses, clearly with the intent of making money, then hiring clever lawyers to argue through the court they didn't mean to make a bundle of money when they sold them. It was just pure coincidence, Your Honour, the properties rose in value; that they made a capital gain. Then they get away with paying no tax on the profit.

Meanwhile, muggins like me who stick our savings in the bank have to pay resident withholding tax and can't escape it.

That's why, in principle, a capital gains tax, as sold to me this week by Labour's revenue spokesman Stuart Nash, is hard to argue against. If you earn a buck, you pay tax on it. Taxation should be fair. Labour goes further and argues it should increase as you earn more. I say, why punish those who work hard and do well, so long as they're not ripping off others? (See above).

The trouble with Labour's tax package is that it's political and won't fill Treasury coffers. Labour must compensate for removing GST from fresh fruit and vegetables because it thinks this will help the poor and unhealthy. Really? Seen the price of fresh tomatoes, avocados, lettuces recently? Research shows cooked/canned tomatoes are better for you anyway. What evidence does Labour have showing the poor and unhealthy will switch from eating pies to salads? None, I'll bet.

If a capital gains tax fixes economic woes, it must apply to everything - including family homes - and that's political suicide. Bold policy? It could be bolder. But at least it's traditional Labour policy; something to campaign on.

But this week's worst unfairness was that wretched creature Rod Petricevic claiming he's broke and won't receive a fair trial because he can't pay a lawyer; using that to seek a permanent stay of criminal proceedings.

How does he sleep at night? I'm still proud that in 1986, when Petricevic was filthy rich, I threw him out of my restaurant for being vile to waiting staff.

Petricevic's company lost $450 million of investors' money yet he lives in luxury. His millions are protected in family trusts. You might ask why he doesn't tell his wife to pay his legal bills. Could it have something to do with the fact that if he instructs his wife to pay the legal bills, he could also instruct her to give some crumbs to the investors? He refuses comment on that one.

The more I see the fiercely wealthy, the more I dislike them. Are they born unpleasant or do riches change them because they're accustomed to sycophants hanging on every whim?

I asked a wise friend recently, whom I hadn't seen for years. He answered swiftly: they're terrified of losing their money, and becoming grasping and predatory. They fear everyone is out to take it away so they must increase their pile.

He's right. That's why it's gratifying to see the Nathans Finance directors found guilty last week, even if I say so myself*. You can argue investors were taking risks, going for the highest returns, but they were still entitled to truth and transparency.

It's way past time for little people like Petricevic to man up. They should be ashamed. Not all capitalists rip others off to become wealthy. Rich isn't a dirty word, but these guys' refusal to accept they've done wrong gives everyone in business a bad name.

*Deborah Coddington's husband, Colin Carruthers QC, was Crown lawyer prosecuting Nathans Finance directors.

- Herald on Sunday

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