A nine-year-old Australian schoolgirl has been targeted for condemnation by prominent rightwing politicians after she refused to stand during a rendition of the national anthem, arguing that it airbrushes Indigenous peoples from the country’s history.
Harper Nielsen’s parents said they were proud of her for the protest, which earned her a detention – and reportedly the threat of suspension from school.
But the child was attacked by politicians, including her state senator, Pauline Hanson, the leader of the rightwing One Nation party.
“Take her out of school,” Hanson said in a video posted on Facebook, in which she also labelled her a “brat”. She attacked the nine-year-old’s parents, saying: “I tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside.”
Her choice of language was echoed by Jarrod Bleijie, a shadow minister in the Queensland parliament and a member of the centre-right Liberal National party. The politician claimed the child’s parents were “using her as a political pawn”, called her protest “silly” and demanded that she “stand and sing proudly your national anthem”.
He posted on Twitter: “Refusing to stand disrespects our country and our veterans. Suspension should follow if she continues to act like a brat.”
Nielsen told local media the Australian anthem marginalised a whole section of the nation’s population. “When it says Advance Australia Fair, it means advance the white people. And, when it says ‘we are young’, it completely disregards the Indigenous Australians who were here before us for 50,000 years,” she told 9NEWS.
She added that she was not someone who abides “by the rules of older people just because they’re older”.
She did so as a wider debate goes on in Australia over the suitability of the anthem’s lyrics. Last year there were calls to introduce a version that gave greater recognition to the Indigenous peoples.
Her protest also drew comparisons with the US sportsman Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem to highlight social and racial injustice in the United States.
The campaign group Recognition in Anthem said the reference to Australians as a “young” people “excludes those Australians whose ongoing culture and connection with our land is not young at all, but ancient”. It says the lyrics were “written in 1878, in the colonial era”.
On Wednesday Nielsen’s father, Mark, told ABC radio: “She’s shown incredible bravery in wanting to stick to what she believes in and to make a stance for what she believes is right.”
There were reports the school had threatened her with suspension and her mother, Yvette Miller, said: “We were surprised behaviour such as a passive non-participation might be considered in the same realm as something like bringing a knife to school or being violent towards others.”
According to 9News, the Australian Department of Education released a statement saying “at no time” did the school threaten to suspend or exclude her for refusing to take part in the national anthem.