Kiwi richlisters Sir Stephen Tindall, Peter Torr Smith call for taxes on wealthy to be raised

Two Kiwi richlisters are among the first signatories on a 'Millionaires for Humanity' letter urging governments across the world to raise taxes for the wealthy amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

The Warehouse Group founder Sir Stephen Tindall and Hire Things founder Peter Torr Smith are two of 174 millionaires to have signed the missive so far.

The letter - which was also signed by the Disney Company's Abigail Disney and Ben and Jerry's ice cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield - asks countries to recognise the function the world's richest can play in relieving the economic impacts of coronavirus.

"As COVID-19 strikes the world, millionaires like us have a critical role to play in healing our world. No, we are not the ones caring for the sick in intensive care wards... But we do have money, lots of it," the letter reads.

"Money that is desperately needed now and will continue to be needed in the years ahead, as our world recovers from this crisis.

"Today, we, the undersigned millionaires, ask our governments to raise taxes on people like us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently."

The lengthy letter goes on to point out the increased burdens COVID-19 will place on the world's poorest people, contrasting those financial stresses with their own.

"Unlike tens of millions of people around the world, we do not have to worry about losing our jobs, our homes, or our ability to support our families," the letter reads.

"We are not fighting on the frontlines of this emergency and we are much less likely to be its victims. So please. Tax us. Tax us. Tax us.

"It is the right choice. It is the only choice. Humanity is more important than our money."

New Zealand sits 15th in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for income equality.

Our top tax bracket - for any income over $70,000 - is 33 percent. This is significantly lower than the likes of the UK and Australia, whose highest income tax rates are 45 percent.

Denmark and Sweden's highest income tax brackets are 55 percent, while even the US has an income tax rate of 37 percent for its wealthiest individuals.

Statistics NZ in 2018 said while the wealthiest 20 percent had seen their fortunes skyrocket, the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of Kiwis hadn't changed in years.

An Oxfam report, also in 2018, found 1 percent of New Zealanders had hoarded 28 percent of new wealth generated the previous year - while the poorest 30 percent only got 1 percent of it. 

Last month, the Green Party unveiled a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) policy designed to address this inequality, which would be paid for by increasing taxes on the very wealthiest members of society.

The party is calling for a 1 percent tax on net assets over $1 million and 2 percent over $2 million, which it says would raise $7.9 billion in its first year, "covering the GMI's costs". 

The plan has been widely admonished, with members of National and ACT labelling it an "envy tax" and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying it makes "fairly heroic assumptions".