MANY people voting for the first time in an Australian election found in Hongkong yesterday that economic issues that have dominated the campaign were pushed aside by the more immediate problem of identifying the candidates. Bewildered electors stared at their ballot papers filled with meaningless names, totally perplexed when confronted by the 66 New South Wales State candidates for the Senate or Upper House. Many casting pre-poll votes for Saturday's election at the Australian Consulate-General in Hongkong yesterday searched to no avail for the names of either the Labor Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating, or the conservative Opposition Leader, Dr John Hewson - who each represent one constituency only. ''I thought I could just come along and pick one box out of two,'' said Ms Maako Hayashida, who became a citizen about two years ago after living in Australia since 1980. The returning officer at the consulate-general, Mr Rowland Pocock, said more new citizens appeared to be voting in this election than previously with staff noticing an increase in the number of first-time voters. More Australians in Hongkong are expected to vote at this poll than previously, reflecting a trend around the world that has surprised the Australian Electoral Commission with many missions requesting additional supplies. Mr Pocock said he expected about 3,500 of the estimated 18,000 Australians living in Hongkong to vote compared with about 2,150 votes cast in the last election in 1990. Pre-poll votes can be cast at the consulate-general until tomorrow.