Kevin Rudd

Labor Party makes long-distance call to HK-based Australian voters

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

A billboard stands above the bustle of Cameron Road in Tsim Sha Tsui of a man named Kevin Rudd claiming 'A Plan For Australia's Future'.

Wrong country, surely, to be touting 'Kevin Rudd and Labor New Leadership' for an election held thousands of kilometres away?

Not according to the Australian Labor Party, which is paying HK$80,000 a month for the privilege of being on display on one of the busiest thoroughfares for residents and tourists in Hong Kong.

The billboard stands out amongst the others across from the Park Hotel on the corner of Chatham Road South.

Australians go to the polls next Saturday. They will choose between Labor and the incumbent Liberal and National Party coalition led by Prime Minister John Howard, which has held power since 1996.

Labor's international director, Michael Morgan, said the polling station in the Australian consulate in Wan Chai will have processed more votes than any in Australia by the time it closes next Saturday.

The only bigger polling station is also outside Australia - in London.

According the consulate, there are more than 55,000 Australian passport holders in Hong Kong, 60 per cent of whom are ethnic Chinese.

In the last election there were about 8,000 votes cast in Hong Kong.

Mr Morgan said these were significant numbers in an election which is expected to go down to the wire.

The party had already spent considerable resources in the months leading up to the election to try to get Hong Kong-based Australians to enrol in time to vote.

Ten party workers dressed in 'Rudd 07' T-shirts - mostly bilingual or trilingual - have been on the ground promoting the Labor Party and its policies since overseas voting began on November 12.

They even flew in a prominent Chinese-Australian member, Xu Liu, to campaign on Friday.

'The billboard is really to draw attention to the fact that Rudd is there for new opportunity and it's running with our campaign,' Mr Morgan said. 'We are mounting a pretty aggressive campaign and Hong Kong is one of the major places we are targeting.'

Mr Morgan said despite more than a million Australians living overseas, voting had been made more difficult for them following changes to the law last year.

After three years overseas, they now drop off the electoral rolls and re-enrolling was a complex process.

'There are a number of long-term expatriates in places like Hong Kong and there is a degree of frustration among them because they still have a very keen sense of Australian-ness.

'Labor has committed to review those laws when we get in.'

Many Chinese-Australians had now established strong links with their adopted homeland through business and family and were increasing splitting their time between Hong Kong and other mainland cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, he said.

'He's [Rudd] one of the most recognisable politicians internationally and in particularly in China because of his fluency in Mandarin,' Mr Morgan said.

'We do want to pick up on that, focusing their attention on voting and suggesting they find out a little more about Rudd and what Labor will offer.'

Eligible Australians can vote at the consulate, 24/F, Harbour Centre, 25 Harbour Road Wan Chai. The polling booth is open Monday to Saturday, 9am until 5pm.