Today’s selection from online news sites

Will atheism spell trouble for Gillard?

The PM's admission that she doesn't believe in God has divided religious leaders, writes John Elder.

ON AUGUST 15, between 3pm and 6pm, Julia Gillard may feel a sudden draining of her energy. She'll shrug it off as a sign that the demands of campaigning are catching up with her. And she'll be right.

On that Sunday, Melbourne witch and high priestess Lizzy Rose and her coven will invite Ms Gillard's energy into their magic circle to speak about ''her intentions of where she is taking the country''.

Ms Rose says her divinations ''will prove to us whether Julia is going to govern through ego or through her heart space''.

Labor takes early lead in two-party preferred Galaxy poll

LABOR has burst out of the blocks with a winning lead, according to the first poll published after Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an August 21 election.

Australia's first female PM yesterday hammered away with Labor's election slogan "moving forward" at her press conference, while Mr Abbott pledged to remove taxes and stop asylum seeker boats.

A Galaxy poll conducted for the Sunday Herald Sun suggests Labor has the support it needs to win, with a 52 to 48 per cent two-party-preferred lead over the Coalition since Ms Gillard took office on June 24.

Black Saturday survivors divided over Christine Nixon's resignation

BLACK Saturday survivors are divided over the resignation of Christine Nixon, the bushfire recovery chief who was criticised for eating at a pub as Victoria burned.

She received a standing ovation from the 200 bushfire survivors who were the first to hear her news at a leadership forum in the Yarra Valley yesterday.

"She could not have shared that news with a more sympathetic and friendly group of people, people who understand the enormous commitment that Christine Nixon has given to the bushfire recovery process," said Warwick Leeson, of St Andrews.

Echoes of Howard as Abbott makes rates guarantee

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has given a guarantee he would keep interest rates lower than a Labor government in a move that could backfire on him as it did for former prime minister John Howard.

Mr Abbott on Sunday said Labor policies and the size of the government’s debt were pushing up living costs and putting upward pressure on interest rates.

But in comments reminiscent of a promise made by Mr Howard during the 2004 election campaign, Mr Abbott suggested a coalition government would be able to keep interest rates lower.

Eight seats could change it all

Of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, Labor holds 83, the Coalition holds 64 (Liberal Party 54, National Party 9) and there are four independents.

Many of the seats to watch are in Queensland. Labor made inroads in 2007 but the Coalition is now confident of winning several seats back, particularly off the back of voter anger that Kevin Rudd, a Queenslander, was humiliated by his party.

The battle begins

AUSTRALIANS were told yesterday they would be presented with a clear choice when they go to the polls on August 21, but the campaign is shaping to be one of the narrowest in recent memory, with neither political leader announcing new policy directions and both scrambling to neutralise contentious issues.

But in the first stumble of the campaign, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was forced to hose down a potential industrial relations disaster.

Mr Abbott's move to counter Ms Gillard's claim that he intended to reintroduce WorkChoices backfired despite his assurances.

Greens balance of power expected

WHICHEVER party wins government at this election, the Australian political landscape will change in another significant way — for the first time, the Australian Greens are almost certain to have the balance of power in the Senate in their own right.

The senators facing the polls in 2010 were last elected in 2004, when John Howard’s victory over Mark Latham was so profound that he won an absolute Senate majority.

As that situation unwinds at the election called yesterday, psephologists and party officials say the Greens will be the main beneficiaries.