Alan Gibbs, expat New Zealand businessman, used to applaud New Zealand's tall poppy syndrome. He said it kept us grounded. Stopped us getting too big for our Skellerups.

I quite liked that about Gibbs, because let's be honest, he wasn't exactly cuddles on a platter.

But despite Gibbs' abrasiveness, you'd never catch him lolling about on a sun-lounger at some expensive Hawaiian resort, while 16,000 investors back home fumed because their $554 million of assets had been frozen.

About the only thing Alan Gibbs has in common with Mark Hotchin is an interest in building a house in Paritai Dr, though Gibbs' house was in good taste, was completed, and he left it many years ago to reside in London.

I thought about Gibbs' liking for our poppy-lopping when I heard Mike Hosking leap to Hotchin's defence.

"There is an undercurrent in this country," said the broadcaster, "and it manifests itself a lot in the print media, of wanting to persecute people. Their sickle can't cut enough tall poppies down."

Hosking clearly thought it wrong a journalist had tracked Mark and Amanda Hotchin to their holiday resort. They had committed no crime, he said, just made bad business decisions.

Some say corporate wives should be left out of this. But in the past I've been on the other side, sharing in the spoils, then suffering reporters representing angry creditors.

I know how it feels, but creditors have every right to be aggrieved, especially when people who owe huge amounts of money continue living the life of Riley.

But does anyone see themselves as a tall poppy?

Wellington's property developer Terry Serepisos believes he is. But in April, Serepisos' carefully manufactured public image, on which he'd been working for the past several years - sponsoring the Wellington Cup at Trentham races, carefully posed photos with then Prime Minister Helen Clark - started to unravel.

Contractors working on his Century City Hotel told the Dominion Post they'd been waiting for 18 months for payment.

Serepisos said the bills were in dispute and, "I get that stuff all the time, it's the tall poppy thing."

Why are they this country's tall poppies? Just because they drive flash cars, have made a pile of money, and have glamorous women on their arms?

They certainly prove that money, no matter how much of it they take - and Hotchin along with his mate Eric Watson took $91 million in dividends - can't buy class.

Tall poppies are those into whose head the phrase wouldn't even enter.

People such as Justice Lowell Goddard who, as chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, has changed what was perceived as police doing a whitewash of complaints against themselves, into a speedy, constructive watchdog.

The latest report outlining improvements needed in child abuse investigations is a good example of what Goddard has done to this once fusty institution.

There are hundreds of other examples, but the rich-listers who have benefited from investors' lost savings are not tall poppies.

They're just casts from worms which might one day grow tall poppies, and they well deserve to be hounded for not paying their bills.

If these people died tomorrow, would they leave New Zealand a better place? I think not.

They are, as George Orwell wrote in his 1940 essay The Lion and the Unicorn, "an entirely functionless class, living on money that was invested they hardly knew where, the idle rich, the people whose photographs you can look at in the Tatler and the Bystander, always supposing that you want to.

The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They were simply parasites, less useful to society than his fleas are to a dog."

These are not our tall poppies, Mike Hosking, and we print journalists are not lopping them for the sake of it.

It is our job to hold them up to scrutiny, and if we are guilty of anything, it is that we have not done enough of it.