Goodbye, Bernie & thank you.
You were the best. A dogged & heroic fighter for justice & an inspiration to so many.:
Bernie Banton dead
Asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton has died.
Photo: Bob Pearce
November 27, 2007 - 7:03A/SMH
Asbestos diseases campaigner Bernie Banton died in Sydney early this morning. He was 61.
Mr Banton died after a battle with aggressive peritoneal mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.
Phil Davey, a family friend, said Mr Banton died peacefully in his sleep about 1am (AEDT).
"He was at home and was surrounded by his family," Mr Davey said.
"Bernie's family has asked me to thank the Australian community on their behalf for their support for Bernie."
Mr Davey said the family requested privacy at this difficult time.
Mr Banton, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August, was taken to Concord Hospital on Friday, November 16. He told doctors he wanted to die at home and left hospital on Sunday afternoon.
Last Wednesday, Judge John O'Meally from the Dust Diseases Tribunal convened a bedside hearing at Concord to take Mr Banton's evidence for his compensation claim against his former employer, a former subsidiary of James Hardie.
The hearing lasted about 45 minutes.
Mr Banton, who rose to national prominence in the fight for decent compensation from James Hardie
, was most recently praised by prime-minister-elect Kevin Rudd in the Labor leader's election victory speech on Saturday night.
Mr Rudd lauded Mr Banton and the unions that had supported him in his fight for compensation for asbestos disease sufferers.
"Mate, you are not going to be forgotten in this place," Mr Rudd said.
"When so many were prepared to cast you to one side, Bernie Banton, you have been a beacon and clarion call for what is decent and necessary in life and I salute you."
Family relayed the praise to Mr Banton.
Last Thursday Mr Banton won a confidential payout as compensation for his terminal mesothelioma, after he was awarded $800,000 compensation for asbestosis in 2000.
The case was settled early to finalise it in Mr Banton's lifetime, give him some closure and provide a boost to other asbestos victims in claiming similar exemplary damages.
Mr Banton's lawyer Tanya Segelov said the case was a first for the $4 billion James Hardie compensation fund.
"I think it does set a precedent in that he was the first person to come back for further damages," she said last week.
"I've many more cases on the same lines. Bernie received a lot of publicity because of who he was, but there are hundreds of people diagnosed with mesothelioma every year."
Ms Segelov described Mr Banton's second payout as "bittersweet".
"It was a relief to finish it in his [Mr Banton's] lifetime and be able to get him the compensation in his lifetime. That was a relief for everybody," she said.
Mr Banton's family and legal team had prepared for a series of late-night and weekend tribunal hearings in order to finish the matter before he died.
"My husband is dying," his wife Karen Banton told reporters outside the tribunal last week.
"I'm just numb. I couldn't even say I'm happy.
"It was never about money and it's just a relief."
Mrs Banton's eyes were filled with tears as she spoke of "my Bernie" and his struggle for justice.
"I feel very privileged to be married to Bernie Banton and very honoured to be able to care for him in what is likely to be his final days," she said.
Ms Segelov said today Mr Banton had been a stubborn and inspirational fighter.
"He was a strong and stubborn man, but he was a great believer in justice and a great fighter," she told Sky News this morning.
She said he had held on as long as he could.
"He wanted to see his compensation case finished, which happened last week; he wanted to vote in the election which he did last week and see a change of government; he waited for his sister to be by his bedside," she said.
"He tried to keep going but he became so ill in the last few weeks."
Family had been by Mr Banton's hospital bedside around the clock as his condition rapidly deteriorated.
His sister arrived from Texas in the US to be at his bedside.
Mr Banton is survived by his wife, five children and 11 grandchildren.