parent opinion

Whatever you think of the child who refused to stand for the national anthem, she’s NINE.

Harper Nielson, a nine-year-old, Year Four student from Brisbane, has made domestic and international headlines in the last 48 hours, after she was given detention by her school for refusing to stand for the national anthem in school assemblies for most of this term.

Harper claims the lyrics disrespect Indigenous Australians, and so has chosen to remain seated when the song is sung. Last night, she explained her reasoning Channel Ten’s The Project.

“I feel we should respect Indigenous people and their culture,” Harper said.

“It says Advance Australia Fair, which when it was originally written meant advance white Australia. It says we are young, but we’re not young if we count the Indigenous Australians, who were here for over 50,000 before the British colonised Australia.”


The panel asked Harper how she felt about being given the option by the school to leave the room when it was anthem time.

“I don’t think I should be made to leave the room or do something different because I have different beliefs,” Harper said.

Her father, Mark Nielson, an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, said he was thoroughly impressed by his daughter’s resolve and stance.

“This all came out of a series of conversations we had as a family. Harper started questioning what was in the anthem, and we started talking with her about it. That’s kind of really all there was to it, and she took it from there.”

Mark added that he was “really proud of her for wanting to follow through on her beliefs”.

So am I, Mark. So am I.

No matter what you think – whether you agree with Harper on this issue or not – it’s clear that this goes beyond a little girl wanting to shake up boring school assemblies. Way beyond.

Harper has thought carefully about something, and come up with an opinion. And she’s decided to do something about it. That is a completely natural, human thing to do. In fact, isn’t that what we all encourage our kids to do? Aren’t we always asking them to be independent thinkers?


I would be proud to have a child capable of such a composed, peaceful protest. Proud to have a child capable of such sophisticated critical thinking.

But the nation’s leaders definitely do not agree with me – and their backlash to Harper’s stance has been intense.


Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told radio station 2GB the girl should “follow the rules”, because it’s “a sign of good manners and courtesy to stand for the national anthem.”

Queensland Liberal National politician Jarrod Bleijie, the state’s shadow minister for Education, said Harper 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 tweeted.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also felt compelled to add constructively to the conversation, by posting a Facebook video in which she said Harper needed “a kick up the backside”.

Sorry, Pauline, but we outlawed corporal punishment in schools last century. But thanks anyway.


Radio personality Alan Jones, and former politician Mark Latham agreed that Harper should be ‘put in her place’.

“We used to have special schools for children with behaviour problems,” Latham said on the 4BC radio show.

“Not standing is a behavioural problem, so kick her out.”

Jones was also fierce in his response.

“What on earth do you do … other than call the parents in and say ‘listen, these are the rules here, if you don’t like them you do as we say or go somewhere else because we’re not accommodating you,” he raged.

So, some of the nation’s most influential people have basically verbally abused a nine-year-old child and her parents, and suggested that she leave school – or go to a ‘special school’ – as the solution.

Because Harper has dared to say something that they don’t agree with, she apparently deserves this shameful treatment – this total disrespect. Rather than applauding her for bravely speaking out, they’ve not even simply ignored her – but issued a very personal attack.


The most bemusing thing about the disproportionate scale of the outrage from Australian leaders is that in no way is Harper’s quiet protest a threat to national security, or the nation’s future. It begs the question: why have grown people responded so aggressively to the personal beliefs of a small child?

Their focus shouldn’t be, “She’s ONLY nine, she should do what she’s told, and she deserves to be torn to shreds.”

Their focus should be, “WOW. She is NINE. Speaking up for her beliefs. Capable of peaceful protest. Having the courage of her convictions. How brave.”

I suspect that it’s partly motivated by wanting to criticise her parents – because we all know that people love to tear down each other’s parenting. And also, most people resist change. Which is all well and good; but really, is Harper being a “brat”?

Does she deserve to have a “kick up the backside”?

Does what she’s done, or what she’s saying, really deserve such abuse?

Absolutely not.

Harper is just an individual, standing in front of the nation, asking us to think.

Why is that so outrageous?