THIS time last year Hong Kong was buzzing with anticipation over what Governor Chris Patten would say in his policy address. Newspapers were full of speculation - and leaks - about the contents of the speech. Tickets for the meet-the-Governor forums were snapped up within 30 minutes, while phone-in radio shows were overwhelmed with calls about the policy address. ''Mr Patten was the talk of the town last year as he had only arrived a short time earlier and people had high expectations of him,'' recalled Tai Keen-man, producer of Talkabout, RTHK's highly popular daily radio phone-in programme. This year, by contrast, the airwaves are all but silent. With three days to the policy address, Tai, whose programme is monitored by the Government as a barometer of public opinion, has only received one or two calls on the subject. Press coverage has been almost as sparse, while tickets to the first of this year's public forums were still available to latecomers on Thursday. And as today's Sunday Morning Post poll reveals, those interested in what Mr Patten will say on Wednesday are outnumbered by those with little or no interest. Worse still, only six per cent said they were very interested, while 28 per cent had absolutely no interest. A more informal street survey found only one in seven even knew the date of the policy address. While a surprisingly high 47 per cent of those questioned in the Hong Kong Polling and Business Research (PBR) poll said they would tune into live radio or television broadcasts of Mr Patten's speech, PBR managing director Citi Hung Ching-tin said this figure should be discounted by at least half. He compared it with past polls on voting intentions, which always vastly over-estimated election turnout. No one expected this year's policy speech to be as big a hit as last autumn's address, which was eagerly awaited as the first indication of Mr Patten's programme. But the Governor's authority is perceived to be on the wane, with 28 per cent saying he is less influential than a year ago, compared with 13 per cent who believe he is more. Mr Patten makes no bones about the fact that he expects his role to fade away. ''I am not part of the future of Hong Kong,'' he said last summer. ''The closer we get to 1997, I'll be playing a less and less prominent part.'' Yet even he must be taken aback at the speed at which this is happening. For, despite the fact there are almost four more years left of British rule, Hong Kong has already begun to see Chinese officials as having more power over the territory than the Governor. Forty-two per cent believe Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief Lu Ping has the most influence over local affairs, compared with the 38 per cent for Mr Patten. A further nine per cent opted for tycoon Li Ka-shing, while 12 per cent expressed no opinion, in the poll of 439 people conducted on September 29. The response rate was 60 per cent. Some believe this is disastrous for Mr Patten. Others say it is simply a recognition of the reality that what a London-appointed Governor says - even in a set-piece policy address - may not count for much anymore. ''With the influence of the British in Hong Kong decreasing, people will have less and less interest in the policy speech. There may be some policies he is not able to deliver on,'' said Liberal Party chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei. ''People are getting far-sighted about their future and know the influence of China is increasing.'' Hard-core leftists not surprisingly rejoice at such results. ''He cannot make any big moves in his policy speech. He is only a caretaker and people don't have much expectation of him,'' said pro-Beijing lawyer Liu Yiu-chu. Yet this is a wild exaggeration of the present state of affairs. For while Mr Lu may be the more powerful of the two, the poll also found that, when it comes to popular affection, Mr Patten remains the clear winner. Forty-four per cent said it was the Governor whose actions and opinions they were most interested in, while 30 per cent named Mr Lu. A further 10 per cent chose Mr Li, while actress Veronica Yip Yuk-hing was the choice of only four per cent, with 12 per cent unsure. But, evidently in recognition of the fact that anything the Governor says or does will sound increasingly irrelevant unless Hong Kong's future rulers allow his initiatives to survive beyond 1997, improving relations with Beijing was overwhelmingly seen asa priority for Mr Patten's policy address. Twenty-nine per cent said it should be at the top of the Governor's agenda, while 50 per cent believed it should be among his first three priorities, far ahead of those who saw advancing the democratic cause as important. The airport and social welfare, each with 32 per cent, as well as education and health, each with 27 per cent, were also seen as more important than democracy, as candidates for inclusion among Mr Patten's top three priorities. Democracy was seen as more important than retirement protection, transport, inflation, corruption, environment or law and order. Yet there is still a widespread perception that the Governor spends too much time talking about political reform, with 53 per cent saying this is the case, while 37 per cent disagree. Sarcastic comments flow freely on the issue. ''Mr Patten has shown he is a political Governor. His concern about social issues only shows itself to the public when there is a disaster such as the flooding or Lan Kwai Fong deaths,'' said United Democrat legislator Cheung Man-kwong. The ''one-issue Governor'' label, however unjust it may be, has stuck with a public bored of a year of non-stop talk about the 1994-95 polls - and, perhaps, also a little weary of a Governor seen as the cause of this preoccupation with politics. Many now care little about the progress of the negotiations in Beijing. ''If you went out and asked the public which round of talks we are in they couldn't tell you,'' said Tai. Talkabout used to receive dozens of calls a day on the issue. Now it receives hardly any. ''Ninety per cent of calls were talking about political reform back in March and April after Mr Patten gazetted his package,'' Tai said. ''But now, only five to six per cent are about the talks.'' Even if, as seems likely, most of the speech is devoted to other topics, it will be Mr Patten's remarks on the talks that are picked up by the media, so perpetuating the impression, unfairly or not, of a Governor preoccupied with politics. That means the crucial question hanging over this year's policy address may turn out to be not so much what Mr Patten will say, but how many people will really bother to listen.