The number of temporary visas granted to people entering Australia has risen by one million in just two years, the Senate heard.

Pezzullo said that the current online visa system was struggling to cope with the exponential growth in global applications by people wishing to visit, live or work in Australia. 

Pezzullo emphasised that although the government issued 8.7 million temporary visas in the last financial year, up from 7.7 million in 2015/16, the number of temporary visas refused on bad character, national security or identity fraud grounds had also increased by 46 per cent.

To think we’ve let our guard down in terms of visa integrity would be a misplaced thought, Pezzullo said.

The Department of Home Affairs is waiting for the Morrison cabinet to approve the plan to privatise the system, which would require a company to invest $1 billion over 10 years but which would promise a larger return “over time”.

The project is a potentially lucrative investment for the right company.

Labor senators have expressed fears on whether contracting a private firm would ultimately lead to an increase in visa fees, and whether it could lead to automation of visa decisions.

Nick McKim, senator for the Greens party, has previously said that introducing the proposed changes would be devastating to the integrity of the visa system, arguing that it represents “nothing less than a full-scale privatisation of access to Australia”.

“The whole idea that access to Australia could be packaged up and sold to the highest bidder is deeply troubling,” he insisted.

“We are deeply concerned about the conflicts of interests that come with giving such power to corporations.

“We are also worried that this model will preference wealthy people from white, English-speaking countries: this has been Dutton’s legacy in this portfolio.” 

The responsible minister at the Senate estimates hearing, Linda Reynolds, told the committee that all visa decisions would still be made by government employees at Home Affairs. 

“It is not the government’s policy intention to privatise the visa system itself,” Reynolds said.

“They are looking for a private partner to help them with the IT system.

“They’re not, in any way, outsourcing the visa decisions.” 

Pezzullo was appointed to the position of Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs (then Immigration and Border Protection) in 2014.

With a 30-year career behind him in government, Pezzullo holds an influential role in advising ministers on immigration, national security and border protection.

Since his appointment as Secretary of Home Affairs, the second-generation Italo-Australian has gained reputation as a powerful player in the political game.

Tony Walker, former columnist for The Australian Financial Review described him as a “ruthless operative”.

At a Senate estimates hearing in 2016, Pezzullo famously stated the Government’s position toward refugees who seek asylum by illegal maritime means.

“You will never settle in Australia,” he said.

Pezzullo’s parents were migrants from rural Campania, outside Naples.