Victoria's Education Department is being torn apart by a corruption scandal. At the heart of the scandal is a small group of senior men who regularly met for lunch.
Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have allegedly been flowing out of Victoria's most disadvantaged schools, and into the pockets of these male lunch-mates and their families.
A few brave whistleblowing women in the Victorian Education Department tried to blow the whistle - and they were pushed into meaningless jobs, vilified or even made redundant.
These whistleblowing women faced a very significant problem.
They were supposed to report their concerns to Victoria's Education Department deputy secretary Jeff Rosewarne - and Mr Rosewarne was the convener of the lunch-mates club.
"If you were a woman, over 45 and asked questions, you were out," said one former senior woman official, who has asked not to be identified on the basis that she may be called as a witness by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC).
"It was a boy's club, a ridiculous culture. If an audit found something that was not right, nothing seemed to happen."
The club's most important members were Mr Rosewarne, Victorian Education Department finance boss Nino Napoli and, to a lesser extent, regional director John Allman.
All three male lunch-mates now face the prospect of serious criminal charges. Two primary school principals implicated in the corruption scandal have been suspended.
Mr Napoli and Mr Rosewarne had used their powerful departmental positions to shut down anyone who dared question their behaviour - but long before IBAC got its teeth into the lunch-mates, several departmental women tried to blow the whistle on the alleged corruption.
Several of these whistleblowing women held senior positions in the Department of Education.
Each time the women, particularly those in the audit, purchasing and finance areas of the department, began to question the "banker schools" where Mr Rosewarne, Mr Napoli and Mr Allman hid departmental funds, they were shut down.
The whistleblowing women claim they were made redundant, pushed into meaningless jobs and vilified when they tried to raise their concerns.
Two s-xual harassment claims were made against a former top male lunch-mate who is yet to appear before the IBAC hearing.
The s-xual harassment claims went nowhere.
One former senior departmental official said "all the women who blew the whistle were sent for counselling".
She described one instance where several top departmental women found themselves relocated to the same office away from the department's Treasury Place headquarters after they had raised concerns.
"You were excluded from meetings, removed to other buildings and left to rot," she said.
Another woman who worked in the department's accredited purchasing unit tried to raise concerns about the use of corporate cards by senior officials such as Mr Rosewarne.
She was allegedly told by Mr Rosewarne that her job was going to be "restructured".
She went on leave and was then seconded to another government department.
"If you asked questions you were told you were not a team player," another woman said.
Members of Education Department lunch club had little fear of audits, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie, The Age 3 May 2015
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