JULIA Gillard's problems with her reshuffle will be how it is perceived. Her danger is it will be seen as ministers deserting a sinking ship and that it adds to an impression of chaos, which can be used to fuel doubt about her judgment.

Are Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon rats deserting the Labor ship? Rumours have long been around that Evans would not stand again. Roxon, who has probably found the attorney-general portfolio less glamorous than it looks, is more of a surprise. Would her decision have been the same if Labor had been set to romp back in?

The appointments themselves are sound. Mark Dreyfus, QC, was a given for AG. He steps from parliamentary secretary to cabinet but he has already been cabinet secretary. Chris Bowen finally gets out of his detention in immigration; he should be good in tertiary education and a competent salesman for the skills side of the coming industry package. Military man Mike Kelly enters the ministry in the appropriate job of defence materiel.

Gillard's friend, Brendan O'Connor, has proved himself the ultimate mate in accepting immigration.

The Left has done poorly in the changes: a Left and a Right minister have stepped down - Dreyfus and Kelly are both from the Right.

The big question from Gillard's critics is: why this timing? Gillard knew of the departures long ago - why not reshuffle late last year? She didn't want the election of the Senate leader held over. But that is hardly a strong argument.

The irony is Gillard has been trying to assert leadership and impose order, but whatever she does can be cast by her internal critics and the opposition as examples of disorder. Problems of process, timing and chance have thrown things off course.

Her insistence on an Aboriginal Northern Territory Senate candidate backfired; better consultation would have helped. Her bold decision to name the election date spurred criticism from a few in Labor, but when the announcement was blown away by Craig Thomson's arrest, the rumblings grew louder. The reshuffle timing is questionable.

Put everything together and an overheated start to the political year has become unsettling.

Rudd supporters have done quite well in the ministerial changes. Kevin Rudd himself continues a high profile as MPs gather in Canberra for Tuesday's start of Parliament. Everyone hangs out for the imminent Newspoll.