SYDNEY, Sept 12 — A nine-year-old schoolgirl sparked intense debate in Australia today after refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest alleged institutional racism.
Student Harper Nielsen was given detention last week for not joining classmates in a rendition of “Advance Australia Fair”, a song she says ignores the nation’s indigenous people.
“When it was originally written, Advance Australia Fair meant advance the white people of Australia,” she told national broadcaster ABC after the incident was reported by local media today.
“When it says ‘we are young’ it completely disregards the Indigenous Australians who were here before us.”
Aboriginal culture stretches back tens of thousands of years before the British began colonising Australia in the late 1700s.
They remain among the most disadvantaged Australians, with higher rates of poverty, ill-health and imprisonment than any other community.
Harper said she arrived at the decision to protest herself, but had discussed the issue with her parents.
“She’s shown incredible bravery in wanting to stick to what she believes in... and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Harper’s father Mark Nielsen told the ABC.
Harper was trying to “raise awareness and get people thinking about institutionalised racism... and how that might feel to people who these kinds of things affect”, he added.
The school’s principal had met with Harper and her parents to discuss alternatives to her protest, the Queensland state education department said.
“The school has been respectful of the student’s wishes and has provided other alternatives including remaining outside the hall or not singing during the national anthem,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The department denied earlier reports that Harper faced suspension or expulsion for her protest.
Harper’s stance on the anthem, with echoes of the kneeling protests of NFL players in the United States, irked Australia’s most prominent conservative figures.
Former Wallabies rugby coach turned radio shock jock Alan Jones suggested her parents be told to leave the school if they disagreed with “the rules”.
Australian politician Pauline Hanson, who has made a career of leaping on such controversial issues, labelled Harper “a brat”, before taking aim at the parents for encouraging “divisive” behaviour.
“Here we have a kid that has been brainwashed and I tell you what, I would give her a kick up the backside,” the 64-year-old said in a video posted to Facebook. — AFP