Aussie Asbestos Warrior Loses the Fight

A few weeks ago, we featured a story (see “Politician Issues Public Apology to Asbestos Victim” posted 12 November) about an Australian asbestos victim who received a public apology from that country’s Minister of Health, who had dismissed a petition calling for subsidies for an asbestos treatment as a “political stunt (see “Australia to Offer Palliative Drug for Mesothelioma Patients” posted 20 November).

His name was Bernie Banton. He was a true asbestos warrior, taking on government and corporations. He ultimately won the fight with his government over the drug subsidy. Before that, he won a $4 billion compensation package from one of Australia’s largest construction companies, James Hardy, on behalf of workers who had contracted asbestos disease in the course of their employment.

However, last week, the asbestos warrior was finally defeated by his primary enemy. At 1 AM local time, Bernie Banton succumbed to asbestos-caused cancer at his home in Sydney. He was 61 years old.

Kevin Rudd, who was recently swept into office as Australia’s new Prime Minister on a platform that promised increased support for issues important to workers, delivered a eulogy for the fallen hero:

“I went and saw Bernie at his West Pennant Hills home with his partner Karen and her son Dean about four or five weeks ago. It struck me then that, there was Bernie in the determination to keep fighting and to keep living…he was talking about life two to three years down the track and what he could be doing for those who suffered from asbestos-related diseases and mesothelioma in particular.”

About Mrs. Banton and the couple’s sons, Prime Minister Rudd added,

“She’s a really strong woman and I honour her, and their son Dean and Bernie’s son, Adam–and their other children–for the enormous support that’s be extended to Bernie in what has been a terrible period with this insidious disease.”

Prime Minister Rudd said at the state funeral on 5 December that Australia was poorer for Banton’s passing. Rudd had earlier singled Banton out for praise in the speech he gave upon declaring victory over the conservative government led by John Howard for 11 years.

The premier of Banton’s home state of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, said the dust diseases ward at Concord Hospital in Sydney would be named in Banton’s honor. Premier Iemma said “Bernie Banton was a truly great Australian–a man who fought for others at a time when he should have been worrying about his own health.”