More women go public with allegations against MP Craig Kelly's senior aide, Frank Zumbo

| 08.03,21. 06:21 PM |



More women go public with allegations against MP Craig Kelly's senior aide, Frank Zumbo

Anna Hobson worked as an intern in Craig Kelly's office when she was 16.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard)


Three young women have identified themselves to speak out about their allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Frank Zumbo, a senior employee and trusted advisor of embattled MP Craig Kelly.

A former intern at the electorate office alleged Mr Zumbo's behaviour — including touching, kissing and hugging — occurred when she was 16 years old.

Her allegations against the 53-year-old form part of an ongoing NSW Police investigation as the Department of Finance investigates workplace health and safety concerns for staff in Mr Kelly's office.

7.30 understands at least six women have made formal police complaints, including former intern Anna Hobson.

In an interview with 7.30, Ms Hobson said she was a Year 11 high school student when Mr Zumbo offered her an internship position at Mr Kelly's electorate office in Sydney's south in 2018.

A man wearing a suit and tie and glasses.
Frank Zumbo denied the allegations and said no charges have been brought by police.(

AAP: Alan Porritt

)

When the then-16-year-old first arrived at her new job, she discovered the workplace was made up almost entirely by other young female interns who were all managed by Mr Zumbo.

"Frank would call all of us 'sisters'," Ms Hobson said.

"Often there were as many girls in school uniforms [as] there were people in office clothing.

"The whole office was basically run by the girls.

"Other than that, it was just Frank and Craig."

Ms Hobson said Mr Zumbo "set the culture" of Mr Kelly's electorate office during her nine-month stint.

"You'd always have to hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek when you came and when you left," she said.

"Things like having one-on-one personal conversations in the conference room with the door shut.

"It was my first office job and my first male boss."

'He put his hand on my leg'

A woman sits in a chair with a dog on her lap.
Anna Hobson alleges Mr Zumbo put his hand on her leg while making a joke in his car.(

ABC News: Jerry Rickard

)

Ms Hobson told 7.30 that Mr Zumbo's behaviour in the office would often be "temperamental" and "angry".

She said he was insistent about taking her out on day trips alone.

"There wasn't really any way to reject it," she said. "I never had an option to say no."

Ms Hobson said during the one day trip they had, Mr Zumbo picked her up from home in his car.

"He wanted to buy me clothes, which I rejected throughout the whole day," she said.

"I let him buy me books instead".

She said Mr Zumbo made her feel extremely uncomfortable during the car ride.

"When we were in the car, he put his hand on my leg while making a joke.

The front of an office with a sign that says Craig Kelly MP on the window.
Crag Kelly's electorate office in Sutherland.(

ABC News: Jerry Rickard

)

"It was the moment [when] I was very, very conscious of 'I'm alone in a car with a man, I know he can be temperamental … and he could drive me anywhere or do anything.'"

In September last year, the St George Shire Standard reported that Mr Zumbo had been under police investigation since April last year over his alleged conduct towards another young intern.

NSW Police confirmed the investigation remains ongoing and, as such, would not comment further.

But police did successfully seek an AVO against Mr Zumbo, banning him from going within 100 metres of any place where the teenage girl lives or works.

Through his lawyer, Mr Zumbo strongly denied all allegations and said no charges have been brought by police.

"Police have had ample [time to] consider their position and this will all be the subject of defamation action in due course," the statement to 7.30 said.

"The allegations are fanciful, misleading or otherwise without merit."

Mr Zumbo remains in his role as Mr Kelly's office manager.

Mr Kelly, who recently quit the Liberal Party, has said he had no knowledge of the allegations until they were printed in the local St George Shire Standard last year and in The Guardian two weeks ago.

'I will make you a star'

A woman with long dark hair under an umbrella.
Amarah Bucknall says Mr Zumbo told her he could help her singing career.(

ABC News: Grace Tobin

)

In an interview with 7.30, high school student Amarah Bucknall and her mother, Nicole, allege Mr Zumbo's behaviour displayed a "pattern of grooming" towards the teenager after she met him at a local cafe event in 2019.

Amarah said she had just finished performing with a band when Mr Zumbo introduced himself and said he wanted to help boost her singing career.

"Frank Zumbo came up to me and was like, 'You're amazing,' and saying he wanted to make me a star," Amarah said.

"He portrayed himself as like, really well known, like this big political figure. So I was like, 'Oh wow, maybe this is like a chance for me.'"

Mr Zumbo later met Amarah's mother, Nicole Bucknall, and asked for her teenage daughter to intern at Mr Kelly's electorate office.

"He said, 'Oh, your daughter's so talented, and I want to make her a star. I've got so many connections,'" Ms Bucknall told 7.30.

"And then he pulled me aside and also offered for Amarah to work in the office. And I said, 'Look, she's 16, she doesn't have any office experience.' And he said, 'Look, it'd be great for her resume.'

Two women sit under umbrellas in the rain.
Amarah with mother Nicole Bucknall, who told police she was concerned Mr Zumbo was trying to groom her daughter.(

ABC News: Grace Tobin

)

Ms Bucknall said she was suspicious of the offer and declined the internship on behalf of her daughter. But Amarah said Mr Zumbo then linked up with her on social media and started commenting on her photos on Instagram and Facebook.


"Anything I would post on my social media, he would reply with the emoji with love heart eyes which I thought was weird, but I just brushed it off," she said.

"A couple of weeks after that he called me and he said, 'I saw a photo of you at your formal — you looked absolutely beautiful.'"

Amarah said she began feeling uncomfortable with Mr Zumbo's constant remarks about her appearance and ended up cutting the contact.

"I felt like I was going to end up in a situation where I'm being groomed … and I was just quite uncomfortable with his actions," she said.

Ms Bucknall said she has since contacted NSW Police to say she was concerned Mr Zumbo was trying to groom her daughter.

"I was concerned there was a pattern there of grooming," she said.

"They [the police] basically said because nothing had happened, there's nothing that they can do … But I just wanted to be able to at least say there is a pattern here."

Former staff raised concerns in 2013

Older man wearing black suit and colourful blue tie
Craig Kelly says he was unaware of the allegations against Mr Zumbo until media reports last year.(

AAP: Mick Tsikas

)

7.30 has spoken with six former staff members from Mr Kelly's electorate office.

They claim concerns were raised about Mr Zumbo's alleged inappropriate behaviour around young female interns directly with the federal MP eight years ago.

Two staffers, who spoke to 7.30 on the condition of anonymity, said they confronted Mr Kelly during the 2013 federal election campaign to complain that Mr Zumbo's behaviour around the young women was "odd" and made them uncomfortable.

However, Mr Kelly says he had no knowledge of the allegations until they were publicised in the media last year and again more recently.

Senior Liberal Party members have also had concerns about Mr Zumbo for years.

In an email sent in 2018 to a number of Liberal moderates, Sutherland Shire councillor Kent Johns condemned "the treatment of young women in [Craig Kelly's] office over the last six years".

He said, "the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept".

Bede Crasnich, president of the Young Liberals Miranda Cook branch — Prime Minister Scott Morrison's electorate — also told 7.30 that between 2013-2016, he refused to send branch members to volunteer at Mr Kelly's office due to concerns "about Frank [Zumbo]".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently revealed in Parliament he has long held concerns about Mr Kelly's employment of Mr Zumbo — but separate to the issues of alleged harassment.

"That is based on the fact that my electorate adjoins that of the member for Hughes and they relate to performance measures that don't relate to the more sensitive issues that have come up more recently," Mr Morrison said.

Accusations of harassment in Mr Kelly's office have been referred to the Department of Finance for investigation.

In a statement, the Department of Finance said every report of bullying and harassment is treated seriously and an "assessment is currently underway in relation to this particular matter".

"It would not be appropriate to comment further."

'Deal with the devil'

A woman stands on a foorpath.
Philippa Clark says Mr Zumbo started mentoring her when she was a Greens candidate.(

Supplied: Philippa Clark

)

7.30 spoke to one other woman who provided a statement to police alleging Mr Zumbo touched her on the leg inappropriately.

Philippa Clark was 18 when Mr Zumbo offered to mentor her during the 2014 state election, even though she was running as a Greens candidate.

"I was a bit suspicious," Ms Clark told 7.30.

"Obviously he was a right-wing Liberal staff member. It sometimes felt like a bit of a deal with the devil because he also just made me feel uncomfortable personally."

She said there was an expectation to give Mr Zumbo a kiss on the cheek every time they met.

"He'd want to hug me and on one occasion when we were driving home, he reached over and put his hand on my thigh and gave it a shake, and I said to him, 'Why did you just put your hand on my leg? That feels kind of weird and creepy.'

A woman stands next to a Greens sign.
Philippa Clark says Mr Zumbo made her "feel uncomfortable".(

Supplied: Philippa Clark

)

"And he said, 'I don't think it's weird and creepy.'"

Ms Clark says she met up with Mr Zumbo about once a month over several years to discuss political strategy and acknowledges he sometimes gave her useful advice on political campaigning.

However, she said his behaviour towards her was often intimidating and she ended up leaving politics partly because of him.

"One of the things that encouraged me to take a step back was I thought to myself, I finally don't have to deal with Frank anymore," she said.


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