Greens candidate alleges Craig Kelly aide Frank Zumbo behaved inappropriately towards her | Craig Kelly

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A former candidate for the Greens party has alleged Frank Zumbo, an office manager for the former Liberal MP Craig Kelly, behaved inappropriately towards her when she was a teenager, saying she felt compelled to speak after similar allegations by young interns were published by Guardian Australia.

Philippa Clark said she was speaking up following the publication of the allegations about an inappropriate office culture at Kelly’s electorate office in the southern Sydney suburb of Sutherland.

Clark alleged she felt coerced into situations where she was obliged to hug and kiss Zumbo, who was in his late 40s at the time, and that on a number of occasions he touched her on the thigh even though she told him it made her uncomfortable.

Clark told the Guardian that Zumbo, who was Kelly’s office manager at the time, spent more than a year offering her political advice – and asking her out for meals – as she attempted to woo voters in two Liberal-held seats in Sydney’s south at the 2015 state election and 2016 federal election.

Zumbo is the subject of an apprehended violence order that was granted in September after police sought it on behalf of a 17-year-old former office employee. The police have confirmed there is also a criminal investigation.

Zumbo has said he will vigorously contest the AVO proceedings when the matter returns to Sutherland local court in June and that he vigorously denies the allegations of unwanted touching raised by the ex-employee.

On Tuesday Scott Morrison was questioned about Zumbo following Kelly’s sudden resignation from the Liberal party. It is understood the prime minister had asked Kelly to remove Zumbo on a number of occasions.

“I have long expressed to Mr Kelly my concerns about that staff member and he has long understood my expectations about that staff member,” Morrison told reporters.

Clark said the catchups with Zumbo took place every month or two but there were phone calls and texts in between. She admitted that she kept meeting Zumbo for more than a year, but said she was constantly anxious while in his company.

She alleged she was treated in a similar way to Ella (not her real name), one of the women whose allegations were reported by the Guardian.

“I recognise exactly Ella’s description of Frank squeezing her thigh in the car – that happened to me on more than one occasion. I always used to sit with my handbag on my lap, and never put it on the floor, in case I needed to jump out of the car quickly,” she told the Guardian.

She said Zumbo also insisted on hugging and kissing her when they met.

Philippa Clark
Philippa Clark says Frank Zumbo offered to help her with political strategy when she ran as a Greens candidate. Photograph: Eve Jeffery @ Tree Faerie Fotos/Tree Faerie Fotos

“I would tell him that it made me uncomfortable but he’d always brush it off with ‘I’m Italian, this is how we show affection’. According to Asic records, Zumbo was born in Camperdown in inner Sydney.

Clark recalled one incident in May 2015, which she recorded in her diary. “We were driving back from Bar Italia [in Leichhardt]. He had picked me up from work, we had dinner then he took me back to my house in the Shire.

“He did the thing in Norton Street. He grabbed my thigh and gave it a shake. I told him it made me uncomfortable,” she alleged.

Clark said she met Zumbo at a forum on home schooling in 2014, which she attended because she had been home schooled.

Zumbo, on hearing she planned to run as a Greens candidate and was a Christian, offered to help her with political strategy.

She said she checked on Zumbo with the Greens MP Jamie Parker, who said he thought Zumbo was all right but he did not know him well.

“Frank was factionally opposed to the local Liberal MPs I was running against and wanted to advise me on the campaign,” Clark said.

Both seats were held by the Liberals and were among their most marginal. The Liberals held the state seat of Oatley by just 0.4% going into the 2015 election and the federal seat of Banks by less than 2% before the 2016 election. The Liberals retained both, but Banks went down to the wire.

It is unclear whether Zumbo is a member of the Liberal party, but he has worked with Kelly in his electorate office since 2011, first as a volunteer and then as a paid member of staff from about 2015 or 2016. Kelly describes him as his office manager or chief of staff.

Kelly had been one of the most outspoken deniers of climate change in the Liberal party until his resignation on Tuesday and regularly derides the Left and the Greens for their beliefs.

“I worked with him [Zumbo] because his advice was useful and I’m a pragmatist, but he made me incredibly uncomfortable and anxious,” Clark explained.

“He was proud of his ‘sisterhood’ and said he mentored ‘sisters’ from Labor, Liberal and Greens alike. But he would also start to act threatening and passive-aggressive if I didn’t return his calls, or forgot his birthday,” she alleged.

“He wanted me to believe he could make life hard for me politically if I disappointed him. I believed it for a while and felt absolute dread in my dealings with him, and regretted working with him, as much as I got good political outcomes – it felt like a deal with the devil,” she said.

Philippa Clark at Yeramba Lagoon on 9 January 2016. Frank Zumbo took the image when the two visited the lagoon
Philippa Clark at Yeramba Lagoon on 9 January 2016. Frank Zumbo took the image when the two visited the lagoon

During her campaign, Clark said Zumbo provided useful advice such as how to become a justice of the peace so she could help people, attend all Anzac Day services and leave a book, not flowers, so she would be noticed.

He advised her to make Yeramba Lagoon at Picnic Point a focus of her campaign because it was choked with noxious weeds. He took photos of her at the lake for use in the campaign.

“Not long afterwards, money was committed for a cleanup, so that was satisfying,” she said.

But she said her interactions with Zumbo took a big mental toll and she became increasingly anxious and stressed when she saw him.

She has provided the Guardian with text messages that show their interactions and his apparent anger when she did not ring him for his birthday.

“He was always wanting to get together for meals and coffee, and plane-spotting, after I made the mistake of mentioning it was a hobby of mine. He was always making comments on my appearance, which I hated.”

Clark said that at the time she didn’t think of herself as a “victim” of Zumbo’s alleged behaviour.

“I accepted it as part of the transactional cost of getting good political outcomes. But it shouldn’t be that way and I’m speaking up now because I don’t want other young political women to accept it as normal like I did,” she said.

In relation to these latest allegations, Zumbo said he would not comment as the matters were uncorroborated. He described them as “misrepresentations”.

Kelly said his view about Zumbo giving political strategic advice “would all depend upon the details”. He said on rare occasions he had agreed with the Greens.



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