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Former Western Australian (WA) Labor MP Ernie Bridge, who was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, has died at the age of 76. Mr Bridge was WA's first Indigenous MP, and the first Indigenous Cabinet Minister in any Australian government.
Former Attorney General Jim McGinty, who worked with Mr Bridge in Parliament for 10 years, told ABC Radio yesterday that his friend's passing was very sad. 'He was a general all-round good bloke and loved by both sides of politics,' Mr McGinty said.
'I remember one occasion when he got out his guitar and sang a song in the Parliament to make a particular point about the speech he was giving at the time. You can't help but love people like that - he didn't have a mean bone in his body.'
Mr McGinty said Mr Bridge was passionate about improving conditions in remote Indigenous communities, becoming the president of the Shire of Halls Creek in the Kimberley at the age of 23. 'He then went on and did a number of tremendous things for Indigenous people in Western Australia.'
Mr Bridge was State member for the Kimberley between 1980 and 2001, and served as the Minister for Water Resources, The North-West and Aboriginal Affairs from 1986. He was made a member of the Order of Australia in June 2012 for his service to the Indigenous community, particularly his support for health management programs and his service to the Parliament of WA.
Labor leader Mark McGowan paid tribute to Mr Bridge, describing him as a great Western Australian. 'What Ernie personified is that you can come from anywhere, any background, and you can do great things in Western Australia,' Mr McGowan said.
'It's quite an achievement to become the first Aboriginal Cabinet Minister in Australian history and for that his passing is a very significant and sad event for this State,' he said.
Ernie Bridge's daughter Cheryl posted on her social networking page that her father passed away on Sunday afternoon. 'I have been blessed to have the most beautiful mum and dad in the world and have made it possible for me, my daughters and family and the Western Australian public to have the most amazing life,' she wrote. 'There are far too many things I could say but I have one word: grateful. RIP Dad and thanks for being the most amazing father, so generous and loving'.
Mr Bridge had malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural disease, asbestos-related disease, and respiratory degeneration, thought to be a consequence of his exposure to the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres during his visits to Wittenoom in the 1980s to 1990s. Last month Mr Bridge launched proceedings against the State Government, the Shire of Ashburton, Hancock Prospecting, CSR Ltd, Midalco Pty Ltd, and Wright Prospecting, over the matter.
Source: ABC News, The Australian, The West Australian