RACHAEL Finch stumbled on a question about the challenges of federal government, but that didn't stop the Townsville model from claiming the Miss Universe Australia title last night.
The 20-year-old model and TV presenter beat a field of 30 in a lavish ceremony at Sydney's Hilton Hotel last night.
The leggy brunette won over the judges despite getting tongue-tied during the Q&A section of the contest.
Asked to name the greatest challenges facing the Rudd Government, the aspiring author of a self-help book said "a variety of things" before settling on healthy living.
Finch is an ambassador for the Australian Heart Foundation.
"I just did the best I could," she said after the ceremony. "People just need to be aware of their finances. They need to learn, listen and adapt to their budget and lifestyle."
As well as more than $25,000 in prizes, the new Miss Universe Australia will earn the right to compete in the Miss Universe World finals to be held in the Bahamas in August.
Laura Dundovic, last year's winner, who crowned Finch, dismissed suggestions that beauty pageants were oudated.
"Jennifer Hawkins has shown it's not only a year but a career," Dundovic said, referring to 2004 winner Hawkins, who went on to become Miss Universe and the face of department store Myer.
Last night's competition compromised three categories: swimwear, evening wear and a question-and-answer session with the panel of seven judges.
Judges were looking for what contest organisers called "social intelligence".
"They'll be looking for someone who's warm and intelligent," Miss Universe Australia national director Deborah Miller said before the announcement.
"They'll be looking for someone whom the Australian public can relate to."
An attractive figure is also a key part of getting to the Bahamas. "A girl who looks fit and healthy will be marked higher," Ms Miller said.
Contestants answered questions from the seven-member judging panel, including former Noiseworks frontman Jon Stevens, with queries such as what they would say about Australia to an international audience.
The runner-up was Victorian cheerleader Jade Russell. This year more than 7000 women registered, double last year's total. Ms Miller said the standard of entrants showed the contest was not just about physical beauty.
"We're seeing a lot more well-educated and professional young women this year, including those from legal and medical professions, who are hoping to emulate the success of previous winners."