Masterchef puts Abbott and Gillard in their place in Australian TV schedules

Politicians pushed out of prime time as election debate clashes with cookery contest final

They take their tucker seriously in Australia. So when the traditional political leaders' debate for the forthcoming federal election campaign came up against the scheduled final of MasterChef there was only one winner. And it wasn't the politicians.

The debate between Julia Gillard, the relatively new prime minister, and her opposition rival Tony Abbott was due to take place – as election debates in Australia traditionally do – on the first Sunday evening of the campaign. But that took no account of the final of this year's MasterChef, which up to 20% of Australians are expected to watch.

No contest: the politicians' debate will be cut from 90 minutes to an hour and take place at the ungodly time of 6.30pm next Sunday, so it is out of the way before the chefs come on.

Julie Goodwin, last year's MasterChef winner, said yesterday: "I can't believe they are putting it on the same night. What are they thinking? Are these people in touch with the Australian public?"

No old country sneering about how difficult can it be to sling a raw prawn on the barbie.

The scheduling clash has taken precedence over a more traditional row about whether there should be three election debates or just one, with Gillard seemingly retreating on a pledge by her predecessor Kevin Rudd that there would be three and Abbott, whose party formerly wanted just one, insisting that she's running scared.

Gillard, who has found herself answering questions on cooking rather than immigration or the economy, sympathised. "I can understand the fascination with cooking and eating, so I know many Australians will watch that show. But I think Australians still pay some regard to the debate and the election campaign."

Then later, more testily in answer to a question, no she wouldn't be watching the cooking show: "It's a great country and one of the great things about it is you can pick what you want to watch on TV."

At least she's not in the situation of Bob Brown, leader of the third party Greens, who admitted he wanted to be included in the election debate, but conceded that he'd have more chance of appearing on the cookery show.


Stephen Bates

The GuardianTramp

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