Page 560 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 5 March 2008

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(1) honours the extraordinary life of anti-asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton; and

(2) acknowledges the leading role taken by the ACT Government to minimise the prevalence of asbestos related disease and injury.

On Tuesday, 27 November 2007, long-term campaigner Bernard Douglas Banton died peacefully in his sleep. Better known as Bernie, he was at home and surrounded by his family, exactly as he had wanted. Mr Banton was 61. He died of the asbestos related disease peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mr Banton had a variety of occupations throughout his working life, but the one that dominated his last years was the factory work he did in his 20s. From 1968 to 1974, he worked as a lathe operator, making asbestos pipe sections and shaping blocks of asbestos for use in power stations. His employer was James Hardie & Co, which ran a large factory at Camellia, not far from Parramatta, where he was born and grew up.

Like many other employees, Mr Banton inhaled asbestos fibres at work, not knowing the deadly consequences. At Hardie, they called workers like Mr Banton the snowmen because they were covered from head to toe with the white dust of asbestos used in the manufacture of K-lite. The factory was covered in the dust. When the snowmen walked out, if they did not use the air hose to blow the dust off, all you could see was their eyes.

After leaving Hardie in 1974, Mr Banton undertook a variety of jobs, but it was in 1998, during a family skiing holiday, that he noticed he was having difficulty breathing. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with asbestos related pleural disease, a debilitating but benign condition. He sued Hardie and, after a toughly contested court battle, received $800,000 in compensation in 2000.

Mr Banton vowed to fight for a compensation fund to be established. Despite the great cost to his deteriorating health, he became the face of the James Hardie compensation case. For the past five years, in his own words, he was “dragged through a pit of hell by a mob of bottom feeders”. As vice-president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, he led the fight to force building product giant James Hardie to establish a $4 billion fund to compensate thousands of asbestos victims. In a tribute to Mr Banton, the Premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, said:

It was his transparent courage, his obvious suffering and his imminent mortality that brought him the affection of so many and gave his campaign the moral firepower that alone could humble a corporate giant and right a gigantic wrong.

Mr Banton has been a constant reminder of the real issue here, the dreadful legacy of the asbestos industry and its terrible human toll. Of the 137 people Mr Banton worked with at James Hardie, only nine were still alive before Mr Banton’s death. With Mr Banton’s death, there are now only eight still alive.

Mr Banton’s three brothers—Albert, Edward and Bruce—also worked at the Camellia Hardie factory. Edward died of mesothelioma in 2001; Albert contracted the less

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