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John MacDonald: Starship shows how beggars can be choosers

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Nov 2022, 12:53pm
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

John MacDonald: Starship shows how beggars can be choosers

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Nov 2022, 12:53pm

The line about never looking a gift horse in the mouth has never been more appropriate than it is today.

Because that is exactly what Starship Hospital has done, missing out on a $570,000 donation from a New Zealand horse breeder because it doesn't want to accept money associated with horseracing or gambling.

And so, because it’s been so choosy, the money has gone to a charity in Australia, instead.

How it all played out, is that horse breeder Mark Chittick had a horse running at the weekend in the $10 million Golden Eagle race at Rosehill in Sydney. It’s a race that not only comes with big prize money, there’s also money for the owner of the winning horse to donate to a charity of their choice.

So, ahead of the race, Mark Chittick looked into it and found out that - even though the event is in Australia - if the winning horse is owned by a New Zealander, then the donation part of the prize can go to a charity in New Zealand.

And when he heard that, he thought immediately of Starship Hospital because it does amazing things for kids from all around New Zealand. Chances are you, at the very least, know someone who’s had a child at Starship. You may even have had a child of your own treated there.

So he had a chat to a few people at Starship and told them that he wasn't sure how much it would be but, if his horse ended up winning, there’d be money available for a donation.

He left it at that and the Starship people had a think about it, and they got back to him and said “thanks but no thanks”.

They were very polite about it, by all accounts, but said they didn’t want to take money associated with horseracing or gambling.

As he said himself: “I couldn’t believe it and now that is $520,000 Australian dollars which will never come to New Zealand and help Kiwi kids.” $AUS520,000. $NZ570,000.

This was last week, the race was on Saturday, and so Mark didn’t have time to muck around and he ended up nominating a charity in Australia. Which is the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation of New South Wales.

He told Newstalk ZB that the people from that outfit were at the race on Saturday and were beside themselves with excitement when his horse won. Which, of course, meant they were getting a donation of more than $500,000.

There will be some red faces at Starship today. Because, ironically, it has just put out an email today saying it needs to raise $1.5 million for its air ambulance service - which flies kids to Auckland from all around the country.

Although, maybe there won’t be any red faces and maybe Starship is quite comfortable turning-down offers of money if they come from activities it doesn’t approve of. In this case, it’s horseracing and gambling that it doesn’t approve of.

But honestly, in times like these - when we’re being told everyday that the health system is in crisis - can places like Starship really afford to be so choosy? I wouldn’t have thought so.

And it’s not like I haven’t grappled with this kind of judgement call myself - although on a much, much smaller scale.

Anyone involved in raising funds for schools and sports clubs will know that one of the biggest sources of money comes from gambling. Generally, through pokie machines.

Personally, I hate pokie machines. But, over the last year or so, when I’ve helped out the teenagers’ school with raising money, I’ve put my thing about pokie machines aside and I’ve done everything I can to get a slice of the pie.

Because, when it comes to fundraising, you do everything you can and you take pretty much every opportunity in front of you.

Which is why I think Starship Hospital has really misfired here. Anyone with a sick child at the moment, or anyone who has had a sick child, will really be scratching their head over this one. Because horse racing isn’t illegal. Gambling isn’t illegal.

Yes, gambling causes harm. But does that really mean that charity money that comes from gambling should be off-limits? I certainly don’t think so.

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