Senate turns on a stunner

Political junkies were utterly entranced by the events in Canberra this week as Australia's 45th Parliament turned into an utter farce, the end result of which is that the government has lost its majority and the Senate has thankfully lost one of its looser marbles.

Senator-no-more Malcolm Roberts has been given the boot and few will miss his presence or his egregious attacks on science and the country's collective intelligence. At the same time, we have lost Fiona Nash as well. While she is a champion for rural Australians and their health, she rarely contributed much as the government's representative when the Senate community affairs committee examined the health portfolio during budget estimates hearings.

We were watching that committee with interest on Thursday as we expected the Department of Health to come under some scrutiny over the roll out of the National Cancer Screening Register, and it was. The questions were asked mainly by Labor's Murray Watt, fresh from his evisceration of Michaelia Cash the day before, and it turns out that the roll-out of the register isn't going as well as expected.

While the department's Paul Madden and Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy insist it is safe, many in the industry are concerned that the launch of the register on December 1 with only limited functionality has the real potential for error. However, a further delay to the start of the new cervical cancer screening scheme, after the initial delay in February, would be an utter embarrassment for the government and not something that Greg Hunt is too keen on, we understand.

As Senator Watt pointed out somewhat pointedly, the pressure the government put on the opposition last year to pass legislation enabling the register, and therefore the introduction of the new HPV test, using the threat that women's lives were at stake is looking increasingly like the very dodgy tactic that it was.

The NCSR turned out to be our most popular story of the week, the whole project having consumed thousands of pixels for Pulse+IT over the last 18 months or so. The other big stories were MEDITECH's implementation of its clinical modules at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse – it's a hospital that has had a somewhat chequered history with health IT in the past, so good luck – and the re-release of WA Health's tender for a new medical imaging system, exactly one year after it went to market in the first place.

WA Health says 15 vendors submitted to that tender but none proved suitable. If anyone knows why, they are welcome to leave us a tip. If you do, we promise it won't lead to a raid by the federal police.

The booting of Barnaby Joyce means that the government will be without its one-vote majority in the House of Representatives at least for another month, with the by-election likely in early December, according to the ABC's election sage Antony Green. Until that time the government is at the mercy of the cross-benchers so anything can happen, although it is likely that it will survive and Mr Joyce re-elected. Until that time, the shenanigans continue.

This brings us to our poll question for this week: Is the dysfunction in Canberra having an adverse effect on health policy? Sign up to our weekend edition to vote or leave your comments below.

Our poll last week asked: Are national electronic health records going to be of any long-term use? Most of you reckon so: 71 per cent to 29 per cent.

Tags: National Cancer Screening Register

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