Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made a rough about-face on his previous comments concerning Australia’s history with slavery – or lack thereof, as he claimed – in a chippy exchange with reporters at a media conference a short time ago.

Morrison drew the ire of anyone who’s actually read a history book yesterday, claiming on 2GB that Australian colonisation featured “no slavery.” Which is only true in the sense that people committing the acts of slavery chose semantically to never use that specific term, favouring more historically kind phrases like “indentured labour,” “blackbirding,” and “wage redistribution” instead.

Fronting media today, Morrison was grilled about these comments, and while he did offer something of an apology, he nonetheless refused to back down, exhibiting the trademark irritation that he tends to exude whenever pressed to deviate from whatever Government message he wants to push.

“The comments I was referring to was how the New South Wales settlement was first established and the views that were communicated at the time, informing the New South Wales colony,” the Prime Minister stated.  “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, New South Wales, was not to have lawful slavery. And that was indeed the case” [Editor’s note: It was not the case.]

Morrison then offered up the tried-and-true non-apology of “My comments were not intended to give offence and if they did a deeply regret that and apologise for that,” before turning the furore back on the people who dared ask the question, asserting “This is not about getting into the history wars. They were simply trying to make the point that Australia, yes, we have had issues in our history. We have acknowledged them. I have acknowledge them,” and “I don’t think it’s helpful to go into an endless history war discussion about this. It’s all recorded. I acknowledge all of that. OK.”

He acknowledges it, OK! He is acknowledging it right now. Is that not enough?

In a deeply strange moment, Morrison pinched the press conference off short by chiding other media packs for not social distancing, but did so while stressing that it did not apply to the one present today specifically.

“I do note that I think on every press conference, except in this room, that I’ve had to warn the media that weren’t practising social distancing. Thank you very much,” he said.

The Prime Minister of Australia, folks.

Image: Getty Images / Sam Mooy