ACT's David Seymour refuses to accept NZ has wealth inequality problem in fiery clash with Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick

ACT leader David Seymour clashed with Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick during a tense interview about wealth tax on Tuesday. 

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was forced to clarify her stance on a wealth tax on Monday. Speaking with AM on Monday morning, Ardern wouldn't rule out a wealth tax despite previously promising not to introduce one. 

Her comments were met with swift backlash and the Prime Minister was forced to clarify yesterday afternoon that the Government has "no intention" to introduce a wealth tax "this term".

Bu the Government is currently investigating the amount of tax New Zealand's wealthiest people pay with Revenue Minister David Parker hinting a wealth tax could be the solution last week. 

Swarbrick and Seymour joined AM on Tuesday to discuss a wealth tax but things quickly got tense between the opposing sides. 

Swarbrick, who is in favour of a wealth tax, said it would help bridge the gap between the rich and poor in New Zealand. 

"What I can say is that we do know there is an immense distortion with regards to the distribution of wealth in this country. The top 10 percent own 70 percent of the wealth, the top one percent own a quarter, the least wealthy half of New Zealanders - that's 2.5 million New Zealanders own just two percent of the wealth, that's not an accident. That's the consequences of political decisions that have been made for the past few decades," she said. 

But Seymour, who is opposed to the tax, had a different view. When asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge whether he has an issue with the inequality of wealth, Seymour said no. 

"No, I have a problem with poverty, I have a problem with people lacking opportunity…"

"Where does that come from," Swarbrick interjected, "that comes from that inequality."

But Seymour disagreed saying, "No, it comes from having an education system that is not engaging kids, it comes from having an infrastructure funding regime that makes it hard to get homes built and it comes from a lack of investment and innovation that creates high paying interesting jobs that are globally connected.

"The problem I have with this whole wealth tax shtick is that if you listen to Chlöe the problem for her is that some people are wealthy, the problem for me is how do we create the opportunity for everyone to become wealthy. And if our only idea, the Government's only idea is how do we divide up the wealth that's already in New Zealand then we are not facing the real problem."

Bridge then questioned whether a wealth tax was the best way to solve the problem saying, "You both agree that there's a wealth inequality problem in New Zealand, you both agree on that point, but is a wealth tax …"

But Seymour jumped in refusing to accept New Zealand has a wealth inequality issue instead, saying the country has "an opportunity problem". 

But Swarbrick said a wealth tax was the solution and would eradicate poverty while only affecting the top six percent of Kiwis. 

"Based on the data that we had available in 2020 this would apply to the top six percent wealthiest New Zealanders in this country so to give you a really concrete example.."

Seymour then interjected again saying, "So it's okay to pick on minorities?"

But Swarbrick continued saying, "If you have $2.5 million worth of assets, net assets so that's without mortgages, without any debt as a couple, congratulations firstly you're in the top six percent in the country but secondly that would apply to you as an individual. 

"So if you take it as an individual that's $1.25 million worth of net worth and then that only applies to that $250,000. One percent of that is $2500. For that $2500 contributed to the tax pool in this country, we can eradicate poverty."

But Seymour disagreed again, saying it was just tall poppy syndrome. 

"I think if Government spending was going to eradicate poverty in and of itself we would have done that by now. 

"The truth is that we are talking again about tall poppy syndrome in the tax code, how do we divide up the wealth that exists and put real pressure on retirees."

Despite Seymour's opposition, data from Statistics New Zealand taken between 2015 and 2021 shows the wealthiest 20 percent of the surveyed households hold 69 percent of total household net worth. 

The agency said this figure "reflects the uneven distribution of wealth in the country". 

The report also found that while the median net worth of the wealthiest 20 percent of New Zealand households increased by $313,000 in the last three years to $2.02 million for the year ended June 2021, the median net worth of the bottom 20 percent of households increased by just $3000 during the same period to $11,000.

It also noted there has been "no significant change in the distribution of wealth" between 2015 and 2021. 

"The top 10 percent of New Zealand households continue to hold approximately 50 percent of New Zealand’s total household net worth – as they did in 2015, which was Stats NZ’s first household net worth survey of this type," manager wealth and expenditure Mike Webb said.