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Tributes flow for Bernie Banton. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Reporter: Matt Peacock.
Tributes are flowing in for the tireless asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, who lost his fight with cancer last night. He was a key player in the billion dollar compensation win against the James Hardie Company and, even in the last weeks of his life, he fought for justice for the sufferers of asbestos related disease.
KERRY O''BRIEN: Tributes have been flowing in from around the country for Bernie Banton. As we all know, the asbestos victims campaigner who died earlier this morning after a four-month battle with the deadly cancer mesothelioma. His battle of course went on much longer than that. Bernie Banton was best known for his role in the campaign to secure compensation for the victims of the former asbestos manufacturer James Hardie.
Matt Peacock compiled this tribute.
ANNOUNCER: He is a battler, he is going to fight this to the end, welcome Bernie Banton.
BERNIE BANTON: This company produced products from 1930 that killed people.
MATT PEACOCK: He became the public face of Australian asbestos victims, the little man with the oxygen tubes fighting for justice from James Hardie.
BERNIE BANTON: This is about the victims, not about numbers. This is about the victims and support for them and their families. Thank you so much.
MATT PEACOCK: It was in 1968 here at the company''s Parramatta complex that a 22-year-old Banton began work in James Hardie''s joint venture with CSR that made insulation for Australia''s power stations.
BERNIE BANTON (JUNE 10, 2004): I was a process worker and we used to go into work, it was a shift, three shifts in 24 hours and we''d just be covered and refer to ourselves as snowmen because the amount of asbestos in the air just covered you from head to toe.
MATT PEACOCK: Barry Shepherd was a foreman there and a friend of the family. He well remembers the dust.
BARRY SHEPHERD: We used to get supplied with half a pint of milk and because we never had a fridge at that time, a lot of us, and I would anyhow, I''d pack my milk in the dust under the machine just to keep it cold for when it wanted it at crib time.
MATT PEACOCK: How deep was this dust?
BARRY SHEPHERD: It was probably three, four inches deep at times under the machine and around the machine.
BERNIE BANTON (DECEMBER 21, 2004): Working in that factory I''ve lost hundreds of colleagues that I worked with, I''ve lost a brother, I have another brother that''s suffering from asbestosis.
MATT PEACOCK: James Hardie admits it knew the dust caused cancer - of the hundreds who worked at the factory, few survived.
BARRY SHEPHERD: Very few are left. We used to meet every year on a certain date at Christmas and to start with there was 20, 30 of us and slowly but surely that went, you know. People passed away, you know, a lot with asbestosis and mesothelioma. The last one we had was Bernie and I.
MATT PEACOCK: In 2003 after James Hardie moved offshore and its fund for asbestos victims faced bankruptcy, Banton campaigned for a government inquiry and he sat through the Jackson Commission hearing.
BERNIE BANTON (JUNE 10, 2004): You can just pass the buck, move offshore and make your millions and walk away without any conscience whatsoever, they just have no conscience, not one of these people have ever said they were sorry for what they did. Not one.
GREG COMBET, FORMER ACTU SECRETARY: Well there''s very few people I think in any public campaigns like the James Hardie campaign that have cut through if you like, that way and reached into the heart and the sentiment of Australian people but Bernie did that all over the country.
MATT PEACOCK: It was then the ACTU became involved with the New South Wales Premier Bob Carr leaving it up to Greg Combet and Bernie Banton to strike a deal with Hardie.
GREG COMBET: I think without his advocacy in public, we wouldn''t have created the same amount of pressure on James Hardie and perhaps we wouldn''t have got them to the table and perhaps we wouldn''t have got an agreement.
BARRY ROBSON, ASBESTOS DISEASES FOUNDTION: The public really took to Bernie and the number of phone calls we took at the foundation was huge. So it helped us get our message out there and that''s why Bernie was the face of the campaigns.
BERNIE BANTON: You haven''t changed a bit. PHIL BATSON: No. BERNIE BANTON: Hey. PHIL BATSON: God. BERNIE BANTON: Good to see you, mate. PHIL BATSON: Crusader, mate.
MATT PEACOCK: Banton was steeled in his battle with the company by his frequent contact with other work mates like Phil Batson who died from mesothelioma soon after this meeting. The deal with James Hardie took over two years of sometimes torrid negotiations. Greg Combet believes Bernie Banton''s role was crucial.
GREG COMBET: On one occasion I remember one of the representatives for the company sort of said look, you know, we''re not Santa Claus, when we were talking about compensation arrangements and the like. It was totally sickening and desensitive observation and Bernie gave them a real rev up over that and deservedly so. He brought things to where the issue really was and it''s justice for people.
MATT PEACOCK: Banton''s advocacy didn''t stop with the deal with Hardie. He continued to lobby for asbestos victims and trade unionists always aware that one day he too might develop mesothelioma.
BERNIE BANTON (JUNE 10, 2004): That''s the fear you live with daily, that this can move on to mesothelioma. Now with mesothelioma the average is about 153 days. Once they tell you have it, that''s about the end of the line.
MATT PEACOCK: Four months ago the fear became a reality when he was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma.
BERNIE BANTON: Like other battles we''ve been through, we intend to face this one head on but this one''s a much more personal fight.
MATT PEACOCK: More than most, Bernie Banton knew that this was one fight he couldn''t win. And how would his wife Karen like him to be remembered?
KAREN BANTON: As Bernie Banton, just a fighter for justice for all.
by Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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