Prime Minister Bill English kept things simple with the first reshuffle of his premiership.

With an election five months away, English needs a settled Cabinet to project a sense of stability and continuity when voters head to the ballot boxes.

His selections reinforce these political imperatives while introducing two new faces into his ministry, with promotions for MPs Scott Simpson and Tim McIndoe.

Gerry Brownlee is a sound appointment as Foreign Minister to replace Murray McCully. Brownlee is an influential figure in the Government.

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Over a long political career, he has never shied from the battlefield. English maintains that his new Foreign Minister could, when required, be diplomatic.

This aspect of Brownlee's character is not immediately visible but as Leader of the House for eight years he would seem to have been an honest broker.

That is a fundamental quality in his new role, which is certain to be busy given the rise of threats from North Korea, the unpredictability of United States President Donald Trump and political uncertainties in Britain and France.

Mark Mitchell, Brownlee's replacement as Defence Minister, is new to Cabinet but not unfamiliar with the modern military environment.

A former police dog handler, he once won a commendation for bravery. When he left the force, he worked in the Middle East private security industry, no place for the faint-hearted.

While overseas, Mitchell helped with humanitarian support in the Philippines, Pakistan, and Haiti after natural disasters. From a New Zealand perspective, these are tasks which the Defence Force is frequently called upon to undertake.

His appointment to the portfolio renews a family connection with the job. His grandfather Frank Gill, an RAF World War II pilot and later Air Force Commodore, was Defence Minister from 1978 until 1980.

These are important national appointments. From a political point of view, the task English handed Justice Minister Amy Adams is equally significant.

Adams, the Social Investment Minister, is now in charge of all aspects of Housing New Zealand, including the Government's plans to step up house-building on crown land.

This task was one of jobs held by Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith who, fairly or not, had come to be seen as a figure of the Government's failure in this arena.

Housing issues, especially in Auckland, are a challenge for an Administration seeking a fourth term.

In what seems a move to at least blunt political attacks, English has handed the hot potato to one of his more accomplished ministers.

The other major appointment in the new English Cabinet was the promotion of Nikki Kaye to the Education portfolio, which has in the past been a political graveyard.

Kaye has completed a four-year apprenticeship as Associate Minister to Hekia Parata, so is familiar with the pressure points in the demanding portfolio.

Her promotion coincides with education sector leaders setting out their stall for pay equity claims. First in line are women working as education support workers and teacher aides.

Kaye, who is eager to modernise schools, will need all her energy to keep the focus on achievement rather than angst.