Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he does not want to enter into "endless history wars" while offering a qualified apology for claiming Australia had no history of slavery.
Mr Morrison came under fire on Thursday after he made the comments while condemning calls to topple a statue of Captain Cook in the UK.
"Well, when you're talking about Captain James Cook, in his time he was one of the most enlightened persons on these issues you could imagine," Mr Morrison told 2GB.
"I mean, Australia when it was founded as a settlement, as New South Wales, was on the basis that there'd be no slavery. And while slave ships continued to travel around the world, when Australia was established yes, sure, it was a pretty brutal settlement. My forefathers and foremothers were on the First and Second Fleets. It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia."
I don't intend to get into the history books, my comments were not intended to give offence and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that.Scott Morrison
Mr Morrison clarified on Friday he meant there was no slavery when the colony of NSW was first established.
"If you go back to people like William Wilberforce and others, they were very involved in that first fleet expedition and one of the principles was to be that Australia or in that case, NSW, was not to have lawful slavery," Mr Morrison said.
"I don't think it's helpful to go into an endless history wars discussion about this.
"I don't intend to get into the history books, my comments were not intended to give offence and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that."
Mr Morrison had been accused of having a selective understanding of Australia's history.
Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said Mr Morrison's comments were "quite disappointing".
"We have the Cocos-Keeling Islands in the electorate of Lingiari in the Northern Territory and we know that from experience speaking to constituents there that they are descendants of people who've come from the Malays and the Dutch East Indies. So that was a clear case of, well, that's not quite correct, Prime Minister," Senator McCarthy told the ABC.
"Then if we also look at the South Sea Islanders who were kidnapped and relocated to Queensland, far north Queensland, to work in the sugar canes and then also First Nations people certainly felt that way, and there's also stolen wages. There are cases under way.
"I just think the Prime Minister just needs to get out a bit more and realise that this is a big country and there are so many things that need to be understood. And truth telling begins with telling all those stories."