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Friday, 26 October, 2001, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
View from an Australian ex-pat
In the two weeks leading up to Australia's election on 10 November, thousands of overseas voters will be making their choices. London's Australia House is the largest polling station outside Australia, and 25,000 Australians are expected to vote there in person.

BBC News Online asked one Australian ex-patriate, business journalist Sarah Thompson, to give her personal view of the vote.

Living in Shepherd's Bush, west London, with eight other Australians, I should admit straight away that intense political debates are fairly thin on the ground.

Casting a vote from 12,000 miles away is a way of touching base with our Australian identity

While I have spent the last two-and-a-half years in London, most of my flat mates are living the party-animal transient lifestyle of the typical Aussie - working to save as much as possible in order to go off travelling for another three months.

Among such non-politicos, I was not expecting the prospect of a forthcoming federal election to generate much interest. In fact I thought it highly unlikely that any of the gang would actually consider shifting themselves down to Australia House to vote before 10 November.

I now realise that I am not alone in my belief that casting a vote from 12,000 miles away is a way of touching base with our Australian identity.

Family advice

Whether their eventual vote is based on a quick sift through the Australian news websites, a strong opinion on Australia's rejection of asylum seekers or simply their parents' choice, everyone from Kylie (yes really) to Bart (a random dosser who came for one night three months ago) plans to make a pilgrimage down to the Strand.

Several Australians in London feel it is almost a choice between prime ministers

So what is on offer? Liberal Prime Minister John Howard is up against Kim Beazley, opposition leader of the Labor party - the other four parties, Nationals, Democrats, Greens and One Nation, are pretty much off the radar over here.

My room-mate Kate feels she cannot make an informed decision and plans to ask her family for advice.

Despite the internet's presence almost making geography irrelevant, Kate says: "I am really out of the loop here and it's rare to see any news about Australia in London. If I was at home, I would be bombarded by the election campaigns with their billboards, speeches, and television broadcasts hitting home the different parties' policies."

War response

What did make headline news in the UK was Howard's rejection of 400 asylum seekers from the Middle East. This issue was given extra potency following the attacks on America and most of my mates found it depressing that in an opinion poll 70% of Australians voted against the acceptance of these people, many of whom were escaping the Taleban regime.

Ex-pat votes in UK, 1998 election
14,688 in person
5,300 postal votes
Source: Australian High Commission
For this reason and the fact Howard is supportive of the war against terrorism, Chook - christened Renae but known under the Australian slang for roast chicken - is vehemently against the Liberal government.

Another mate Jonno is impressed that Howard is "... getting right behind America. He is a pretty good leader so why change?"

With the divide between parties becoming increasingly blurred, several Australians in London feel it is almost a choice between prime ministers. I admire Howard's ability to stick to his guns, unlike Beazley who after trying to block government legislation preventing refugees from entering Australia, flipped his stance to take an opposite view.

Most of my family also live on cattle properties in Northern New South Wales and after struggling with consecutive droughts and floods, the Liberal party's sympathetic stance towards rural graziers strikes a chord with me.

So "little Johnny Howard", as he is called by my father, will get my tick over Beazley - who Dad has a less friendly nickname for.

The election is on 10 November. Australians in the UK can vote in person at Australia House, Strand, London, from 29 October, excluding Sunday 4 November. Voting ends at 8pm on Friday 9 November.

Applications for postal votes can be downloaded from the Australian High Commission and must be submitted to Australia House by 9 November.

See also:

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