SMH art critic John McDonald’s attack on an obscure TAFE students association in the paper’s Saturday’s Review section (sadly, not online) demands some context. The full story of the National Art School is a typically Sydney one, starring Bob Carr and a retinue of artsy hangers-on.

First, some history: In 1994, East Sydney TAFE art school decided they didn’t like TAFE (TAFE insists on competencies like literacy) but wanted to continue as an art school-cum teacher’s welfare collective, featuring small classes, a leisurely approach to learning, and staff rooms clogged with underworked teachers.

When Bob Carr became premier he gave them independence from the TAFE sector, TAFE fees (cheap) and the right to call their less-than-challenging qualifications degrees. He did this because he had taken classes at the old art school and some of the people backing him as premier were supporters of said school (this is, after all, a Sydney story).

This little deal could not last beyond his premiership, so last year the NAS was told it had to go back to TAFE or join a real university. Two universities have put in a bid (the sweetener is the site a 19th century sandstone gaol in Darlinghurst and lots of money to renovate). Macquarie Uni wants the sandstone and the CBD position. They have no art school. COFA (the art school at UNSW) is down the road and they want the real estate and no rivals.

The word is, despite John McDonald’s ranting, if Macquarie gets it, the art school will go to the suburbs and the film school will get the old gaol — and maybe the business school as well. The question is: Why has no-one asked why Carr diverted money from education/arts to supporting what has effectively been a finishing school for rich kiddies?

For 10 years, successive oppositions have ignored the rort sitting under their noses. Come on, Peter Debnam, why not step up to the spot and score this easy political penalty?