Geoffrey Barker (78) is a retired journalist in Melbourne, Australia, specializing in international affairs. He understands the very restrictive policies “down under”, but the curtailing of civil liberties makes him uneasy.


Hi Geoffrey, long time no see. How are things in Australia?


Living in Australia these days is a bit like living through an Old Testament bible story. First, we had drought and terrible fires, then we had floods, then plagues of locusts, and now Covid-19. Fire, floods and pestilence for a nation of sinners perhaps? And now all state and federal authorities have imposed draconian temporary restrictions on movement and association. People are fined heavily if they breach social distancing and self-isolation laws being enforced by the cops and the military. So, it’s a sort of Old Testament police state.


We have fines too; 100 Francs I hear. How high are they in Australia?


For individuals, they start at 1600 Australian Dollars. That is more than 900 Swiss Francs. For businesses it is significantly more.


Whoa, that’s a lot. I appreciate your concerns about civil liberties.


People like me who are essentially conservative do not like this curtailing of civil liberties. You know, Easter in Australia is traditionally the one last long weekend before winter sets in. People leave the cities; they go to the beach. All this is not possible now, by order of the authorities. It is a hard price to pay. The real test will come when things are easing up again. Maybe people will appreciate those liberties better. But I do understand that the restrictions are necessary to manage the situation. They seem to work. The country is doing ok. Infections and deaths are far below European and US numbers and the curve, as they like to say, does seem to be starting to flatten. I hope that’s true.


Same here. The Swiss restrictions –mostly based on voluntary compliance and not on fiat by the authorities – seem to work. But I am astonished about how thoroughly the Swiss follow the “recommendations”, self-professing lovers of liberty, freedom and rugged individualism as they might be.

 Obviously, we live in the same world. I simply do not like to see policemen accompanied by military personnel knocking on people’s doors to check that they are obeying the rules–especially as the military is not trained in law enforcement. I’m sure they have logistics skills useful to the cops, but really soldiers are trained to kill, not to ensure obedience to the law.


By the way, what do you as an “essentially conservative” man make of the leadership of the US-President who is thought to be as conservative as they come?

 At this time, I feel very sorry for the Americans who are led by a stupid vindictive bastard who seems quite incapable of responding rationally to the scientific data. I’m not at all happy with the restrictions on civil liberties in Australia due to the social distancing and isolation requirements. But I’m pragmatic enough to recognize that we do seem to be slowing the infection and death rates and we have guarantees that it’s all only temporary. Let’s hope that’s true. There is rising impatience about when a start can be made on lifting restrictions. There are, of course, all sorts of epidemiological models floating around, but my view is still that we have to be very careful, take it easy, and not be rushed into prematurely easing things because of concerns about the mounting economic consequences.


I did not realize Australia is so restrictive and has such good numbers regarding the virus spread. We read about New Zealand though.

Well, of course there are only about three people in New Zealand. I’m joking.


Hmm, ok – how are you personally coping?

I am at home in very comfortable solitary confinement. It’s doing wonders for my trumpet chops and for my reading and writing pastimes. I do lots of walking. I live in a nice area of Melbourne.


What do you play these days?

Recently, I am playing more modern music, French 20th century music. There is wonderful literature for trumpet. I hope my chops stay in the fine shape they are now. You know, in this situation you need something that’s both intellectually and emotionally challenging, and music is it for me.


How’ s your son Julian?

He is fine. He is a quite successful chef in Melbourne now.


Funny, my daughter Anna also is a chef, in Washington, D.C.

He was planning to get married, but they had to postpone the wedding. Currently, weddings in Australia can only have 5 people attending. That’s not how we are used to do it. For funerals, by the way, the limit is set at 10 people attending.


Here’s to priorities. I don’t know whether you can have a wedding in Switzerland. Church services are out. I heard on the radio that funerals can have up to 15 attending, but that was in the catholic part of the country.

We shall wait. I think we will survive, even if we are a bit battered and bruised when we get to the other side.