QUEENSLAND, Australia — A 9-year-old Australian girl who refused to stand during the country’s national anthem out of respect for the nation’s Indigenous population has been attacked by prominent politicians, who called for her to be kicked out of school.
Harper Nielsen, who lives in the state of Queensland, told CNN affiliate Nine News she sat during her country’s national anthem because she believed it was disrespectful to Indigenous Australians.
The anthem, titled “Advance Australia Fair,” contains the line “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.”
“(But) when it says Advance Australia Fair, it means advance the white people,” the 9-year-old student told Nine News.“And when it says ‘we are young’ it completely disregards the indigenous Australians who were here before us for 50,000 years.”
Australia’s indigenous population represents about 2 percent of the total population but has a lower life expectancy and twice the infant mortality rate than the rest of the country.
Controversial right-wing senator Pauline Hanson said Australian schools were “brainwashing” children and called for Nielsen to be “taken out” of her school in a video statement posted on social media.
“It’s about who we are as a nation, it’s part of us … Here we have a kid who’s been brainwashed and I’ll tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside,” she said in the video, Wednesday. “This kid is headed down the wrong path and I blame the parents for encouraging this.”
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Sydney-based radio station 2GB the girl should “follow the rules.”
“It’s just a sign of good manners and courtesy to stand for the national anthem,” the former leader said Tuesday. Abbott was appointed as special envoy on indigenous affairs under new Prime Minister Scott Morrison in August.
Queensland Liberal National politician Jarrod Bleijie, the state’s shadow minister for Education, said Nielsen was a “brat.”
“Shame on her parents for using her as a political pawn. Stop the silly protest and stand and sing proudly your National Anthem,” Bleijie said on Twitter, adding that sitting during the anthem disrespected Australian veterans.
The politician said Nielsen should be suspended if she continued to sit during the anthem.
Speaking to CNN, Mark Nielsen, Harper’s father, said he was “amazed and proud” of his daughter over how she had handled the initial protest and then the ensuing national controversy.
“(I’m) amazed at her capacity for seeing things that don’t feel right and having the strength to try and right them. I don’t have that, so to see someone so young is really astonishing, and I’m just incredibly proud,” he said.
Nielsen said his family had been overwhelmed by the positive responses they’d received from across Australia, including the indigenous community, but added there had been some hate mail as well.
Still, he said their critics had the right to their opinions.
“People can say what they want. Calling her a brat without having actually met her seems a little weak-minded but again, I defend their right to be free to say what they feel,” he said.
In a statement, the Queensland Department of Education said the school had never suggested Nielsen would be expelled or suspended for refusing to stand during the anthem.
In fact, the school had tried to be respectful of her wishes by providing alternatives, such as not singing along.
“Kenmore South State School is an inclusive and tolerant school which supports the diverse points of view of all students and families,” the department’s statement said.