The fortunes of the country's 150 richest people have grown by almost 20 per cent in one year but they are still calling for the easing of constrictions around wealth creation.

The National Business Review yesterday published its annual Rich List, showing that the combined wealth of New Zealand's richest has ballooned from $38.2 billion to $45.2 billion - the highest total ever.

The magazine says the list of more than 150 people and families is about optimism, hard work and sacrifice, and is a cause for celebration - not envy or derogation.

But a budget adviser says it is a slap in the face for families whose struggles are only worsening.


Packaging billionaire Graeme Hart - a former tow-truck driver - tops the list with a $6.5 billion fortune.

Controversial businessman Eric Watson remains on the list at number 30 with a fortune of $220 million, despite the woes of Hanover Finance. His business partner, Mark Hotchin, fell off the list last year.

NBR news editor Ellen Read said the rich-listers had spoken of a common theme when asked what it took to create wealth - the need to ease constrictions.

"What emerged again and again was the need for a regulatory and operational environment that's conducive to wealth creation," Ms Read said.

"Eliminating excessive regulation, easing constrictions and freeing up the entrepreneurial spirit were regarded as essential to enabling wealth creation."

Jeweller Sir Michael Hill, worth $245 million, told NBR: "Could not the Government give us a little freedom to be able to make common sense decisions for ourselves?"

John McVicar, managing director of a forestry group that puts his family's worth at $70 million, said economic policy should be based on reducing costs for business and increasing productivity and revenue.

Construction company head Sir Patrick Higgins, worth $100 million, said: "The country needs to address excessive regulation if it is to improve wealth creation."


A United States think-tank and the Wall Street Journal rank New Zealand as already having the highest level of freedoms for business in the world.

The Heritage Foundation's "index of economic freedom" puts New Zealand fourth overall, with a score of 99.9 for business freedom.

The growth in the total wealth among Rich Listers this year amounts to an 18 per cent increase.

Though the figure is for their wealth, not income, it compares with a 4 per cent increase in weekly earnings for the average New Zealander in the year to March.

The price of goods and services rose 4.5 per cent during the same period and the country's gross domestic product rose just 1.5 per cent.

Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said income inequalities had widened dramatically through the economic downturn.

"For poor families it's a slap in the face because we see lots of stories about families struggling to turn the power on, put food on the table, kids surviving on two-minute noodles," Mr Evans said.

NBR editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson called the Rich Listers "national treasures" in the headline of his editorial.


He is New Zealand's wealthiest Prime Minister but John Key has fallen three places down the National Business Review's Rich List.

The NBR estimates Mr Key is worth $55 million - the same as last year - but others on the list have increased their wealth. That has seen Mr Key slide to 55 - a ranking he shares with three others.

Mr Key has a family home and an office in Auckland, holiday homes in Omaha and Maui, Hawaii, and apartments in London and Wellington.

Other interests include shares and assets held in trusts.

Mr Key has described the list as a "joke" which underestimates the net worth of those included while missing many other seriously wealthy people.

He will not be worrying about his "decline" on the list. He and his family have been holidaying in Hawaii at their place in the Ho'olei resort near Wailea Beach. He is due back in New Zealand on Sunday. Adam Bennett