Gerry Brownlee should make the most of the next five months as Foreign Minister because they may be his only time in the job.

Despite Prime Minister Bill English saying it was not an interim appointment, it could well be, if New Zealand First leader Winston Peters plays hardball in any coalition negotiations it has with National after the September 23 election.

It could be quite a ride for Brownlee. The world is a vastly more unpredictable place than when Murray McCully got Foreign Affairs nine years ago, or when Peters got it 12 years ago.

Unpredictability is to be expected among the world's recalcitrants and a good deal of McCully's work has been in working with friends to deal with difficult situations.


But Brownlee begins the job with biggest uncertainties among our closest friends in the United States, Europe and Britain, and how their choices affect our interests in trade and security.

Even our closest neighbour, Australia, will require Brownlee's immediate attention if, as appears, it plans to renege on citizenship rules for Kiwis announced last year.

Brownlee was not the only choice English had for Foreign Affairs but he was the safest: he spent 12 years on the backbench and in Opposition before being made Leader of the House and serving in the heart of Government for almost nine years.

He has made solid contacts in China and the region as Defence Minister but fewer with the US - the way the US system works, in which the top echelon of the public service is replaced with a change of Government, there is less continuity.

Brownlee will bring an array of political skills, an endearing sense of humour, and personal attributes to the job, although finesse and patience are not chief among them.

He has mastered the art of bluntness, impatience and intolerance of inadequate officials overseeing the Christchurch earthquake rebuild.

English said at his press conference that Brownlee can be blunt when he needs to be and he can be diplomatic when he needs to be. That was a revelation. We never knew about the last bit. But we are about to find out if it's true.

Nikki Kaye's appointment to Education was never in doubt. English announced it in December at his first reshuffle. As Associate Education Minister to Hekia Parata for many years, her familiarity with the sector will be a big advantage.

But nothing can prepare a minister for the step up to such a responsible portfolio in which every parent has a stake. And nothing could have prepared her for the critical scrutiny and pressure under which teacher unions and sector organisations will place her.


But she is better prepared now than before the leave she took to battle breast cancer. That experience forced her to re-assess her work habits and look at ways of keeping healthy and avoiding stress.

English's Clayton's demotion in the reshuffle was to transfer Nick Smith's responsibility for the Government's Crown land building programme in Auckland - a partnership with private sector developers to supply more affordable and social housing on surplus Crown land - to Amy Adams.

It was part of the 2015 Budget but English would not have done it were he satisfied with Smith's oversight of it. Smith has kept his Environment and Building and Construction portfolios but English has lopped off the problem part of it.

A deft move in a sensible reshuffle.