Tony Pagone's Fortunate Life in Law

Listening to his story unfold, however, it would seem the former Federal Court of Australia judge epitomizes a quiet, dedicated approach to contributing to the judicial system and community.

Gaetano (Tony) Pagone, former judge to the Federal Court of Australia and Supreme Court of Victoria, was appointed this year as a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to the law, to the judiciary, and to professional associations.

With such an illustrious career in the judiciary, it would seem only logical to ask what motivated Tony Pagone to enter the field. Interestingly, Tony explains: "I had no idea what I was doing! I studied a double degree of Law and Arts and played with the idea of becoming an academic. Luckily, I took up law." When his father suddenly passed, Tony recalls he felt disconnected and turned to teaching. But life took another turn. Dissatisfied with his choices, he returned to law, gaining a scholarship (another event Tony attributes to luck) to complete a Master of Law with First Class Honours at Cambridge University and then being admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Victoria. It is not difficult to understand his success: Tony is a careful listener, meticulous in recalling details, prudent with his words, and reflective in manner. He also carries the paradoxical balance of humility and sense of pride that often characterizes migrants and their children. 

Tony was born in Melbourne to parents who were originally from Sicily but met in Ethiopia, during the Italian occupation of what was known then as Abyssinia. Rather than return to a devastated Catania in the aftermath of World War II, the family moved to Australia. Tony's father was unable to return to his career as an accountant, so he started an Italian food store in the 1950s and introduced the concept of pizza al taglio (pizza slices) to the community (which, of course, is another story). 

Tony is proud of his Italian heritage. He speaks standard Italian fluently (rather than dialect or a diaspora variation of Italian) thanks to his mother's insistence. He feels "lucky" that his bilingualism has served him well in his career. Further, he credits this skill as contributing to the good fortune of being appointed President of the International Association of Judges in 2018 (an association that represents 94 countries globally). He flippantly notes: "Given that the main office is in Rome, it's handy to know Italian." 

As a former judge, Tony was able to draw on his own lived experience to connect with clients and consider how the interpretations of laws impact on the community: 

Individual liberal freedom is very important to me. I strongly believe that the rule of law allows us all to enjoy certain freedoms that ensure safety and respect. This philosophy led me to the role of Secretary for the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties for several years.

Presenting cases on such liberties was often the focus of his later work, ensuring that clients were treated fairly and with the "dignity they deserved." It is this approach that has led him to consider the current social challenges, for instance, the increase in refugees across the world. He points out that it is not illegal to seek asylum and would like to see a global approach that responds fairly to refugees.

Caring for the aged is another community challenge, and in 2019, Tony Pagone was invited to chair the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, with the report now being used as the basis for reform in the Australian sector. 

Recently, he has been watching global tensions escalate, in particular, the war in Ukraine: 

People seem to have stopped being genuinely concerned about political matters; , possibly because they are disillusioned with leadership. We used to have public discussions on things that are important in the 60s and 70s. There were protests, people were active. Where are all the songs now?  We had Joan Baez, Sartre, De Beauvoir. What do we have now? 

There is no doubt that passion for justice and humanity motivates Tony's determination to contribute to the community as much now as it did in his restless, younger years. Undoubtedly, Tony Pagone's series of lucky events has proven fortunate for the entire community.