Former federal MP Craig Kelly’s office manager told a young female employee she was “very selfish” and “self-centered” for refusing to give him a “little thank you kiss”, a Sydney court has heard.
The trial of Francesco “Frank” Zumbo, 55, also heard covert recordings where he repeatedly referred to himself as an “ultimate feminist”.
Zumbo is facing 20 charges, including sexual touching and indecent assault, linked to accusations by five women between 2014 and 2020. He has pleaded not guilty to all orders, with his defense lawyers, arguing he tried to create a collegial atmosphere and none of the alleged sexual contacts occurred.
The third alleged victim met Zumbo when she was a student in his class at the University of New South Wales. She was invited to volunteer with Kelly before the 2013 election before being offered paid employment in his office. She continued giving evidence on Monday at Downing Centre local court.
On Friday, when the witness first appeared, the court heard Zumbo gave her gift card vouchers and, after taking her out for dinner to mark her birthday, she asked her to kiss him to repay the gesture.
Audio recordings she made during subsequent car trips with Zumbo – who would give her a lift to and from work each day – were played in court and included the pair discussing the woman’s refusal to kiss Zumbo and his follow-up requests for a kiss on the cheek and hugs.
Part of an audio recording played on Monday featured Zumbo criticizing the woman’s hesitance for showing him platonic physical affection.
Discussing how it took him a long time “to get to eros”, Zumbo told the woman he found her “very attractive”, despite having already told him she had no desire for a sexual relationship.
“I’ve never treated women as sex objects,” Zumbo said in the recording. “I wasn’t looking for sexual favors… [I was looking for] nothing but your loyalty.”
Zumbo repeatedly expressed frustration the woman did not share his view that kissing him on the cheek was an appropriate way to show appreciation – and he criticized her for not being spontaneous. During the hours-long conversation, he made several offers to the woman that he could “parachute” her into a job as a politician.
“I wanna show you I can offer the world,” he said, adding that he was disappointed she had not been willing to give him “just a little thank you kiss”. He said it was a “small price to pay” for everything he would give her in the future.
“I understand I may not be the most attractive guy, I know I have to lose weight … but I’m driving myself into the ground because of you [and another female colleague],” Zumbo told her.
He said the other female colleague initially resisted his expectations for physical greetings but that she “gets it now” and is “playing the game”.
“Sometimes you can be very selfish … you have to love others before you love yourself,” he told the woman in the car.
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After his requests for a kiss were repeatedly rebuffed, Zumbo gave her a “proposition” for a “cooling-off” period, whereby she could spontaneously kiss him on the cheek, signaling her intention to be more affectionate with him.
Zumbo illustrated his idea by referencing the 1957 film An Affair To Remember, which he said was one of his favorite films, in which a man and a woman in a relationship make a pact to meet at the Empire State Building on a certain date and if they both show up, they will know they have chosen each other over their respective partners.
Zumbo said that in the film, the female character is “tragically” run over on her way to the Empire State Building, telling the young woman in his car, “I don’t expect there’ll be any running over”.
In the recording played before the court, the young woman responded “yes” when asked if she agreed to the cooling-off concept and whether she loved Zumbo platonically. However, she told prosecution lawyers she only responded this way as she felt she could not extricate herself from the discussion unless she did.
“I already tried saying no multiple times in that conversation,” she said.
Asked why she made the recordings – which she did without Zumbo’s consent – the woman said: “I didn’t want to be in a car alone with him, particularly when it was going to be later at night. I was concerned something more might happen.”
On Friday, the woman claimed she had told Zumbo she was not much of a “touchy-feely” person,. Still, he said his Italian heritage meant “we’re very affectionate people,” and hugging was a “normal part of adult relationships”. The trial before a magistrate only continues.