Budgets are about priorities, every treasurer says. Government revenues have dropped, the global economy is stuttering, and cuts have to be made. Once again, foreign aid is on the list.

Australia committed to the “millennium goal” of devoting 0.5% of gross national income to humanitarian aid. Last year that was pushed back to 2015/16; Foreign Minister Bob Carr now says it’s been delayed again until 2017/18. He told the ABC this morning:

“What you spend has got to be sustainable and the fact is these are the most significant writedowns in revenue we could possibly have imagined.”

Indeed. And the government is still spending more, increasing aid spending by around $500 million in the next financial year. Plus there’s now a cap on how much of the aid budget the government can spend on onshore asylum seeker processing — a dodgy bit of loophole economics that should never have been counted in the first place.

What’s missing is global leadership, something this government has been very keen to do on issues like climate change. The message overseas is mixed: they read stories about our remarkably buoyant economy, the rude health of our accounts given the global tumult, but today will hear Australia is again pushing back its commitment to do more to help the world’s poorest people.

If we can’t help now, nobody else can. Or will.