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Steaking a claim in the battle to banish greens

The lunch is all part of a Free Meat Week "counter-campaign", George Christensen has begun to persuade Australians to eat more meat.

The lunch is all part of a Free Meat Week "counter-campaign", George Christensen has begun to persuade Australians to eat more meat.

The e-invite hit inboxes just after the House of Representatives adjourned for the week at 5pm on Thursday. Accompanied by a picture of Aussies on a farm, Coalition MP George Christensen invited all MPs, senators and press gallery journalists to lunch.

While it is not unusual for politicians to hold events when Parliament sits (basically the week is one long function-fest), Christensen's summons captured the imagination for two reasons. One, because it offered a free barbecue feed. Two, under no uncertain terms, there would be no green vegetables involved.

With the Cattle Council and Sheepmeat Council supplying a ''full barbecue load of good Australian meat'' and Australia Pork chipping in some bacon, the menu is a pared back affair.

''We will allow bread and sauce and even make a special concession on onion but definitely not Greens,'' Christensen says.

The lunch is all part of a Free Meat Week ''counter-campaign'' Christensen has begun to persuade Australians to eat more meat.

''I am encouraging people to support our Aussie farmers and graziers by buying a swag of good Aussie meat and putting on a barbecue for their mates,'' he said.

If the timing of this seems unusual (Australia Day is a good 10 months away), it is no coincidence that Free Meat Week is scheduled for next week. March 24 to 30 is also Meat Free Week. Set up by Lainie Bracher (who works in publishing in Sydney) and Melissa Dixon (a Byron Bay small business owner), Meat Free Week encourages people to go vegetarian for the week.

With funds raised going to animal protection group Voiceless, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Bowel Cancer Australia, Bracher and Dixon hope their week will prompt people to consider eating less meat for the rest of the year and ensure that the meat they do eat is ethically and sustainably produced - ''Or you may choose to be completely meat-free.''

But Christensen is incensed that people should be encouraged to consume less meat at a time when farmers are experiencing severe drought. As his invite explains: ''When farmers are doing it tough, the campaign to convert people to vegetarianism - Meat Free Week - is just un-Australian.''

He later said ''quite frankly, it's the last thing [farmers] need''.

As a backbencher elected in 2010, Christensen is perhaps not widely known outside Canberra and his northern Queensland electorate. But he has form in Parliament for outlandish statements (car makers are ''parasitic'', paedophiles should be chemically castrated) and for his ardent support of Doctor Who.

Not only has Christensen brought his blow-up Dalek to Parliament, he campaigned to have an episode of the show filmed in the Whitsundays in 2012. He is also convinced that Meat Free Week is ''steakist'' and an ''extreme green'' push to get people to stop eating meat. Or, as he described it to Parliament this week, ''alternative lifestylers with green stars in their eyes, trying to convert everyone to vegetarianism or veganism''.

For their part, the organisers of Meat Free Week insist that although they do not eat meat, they are not calling on people to stop being carnivorous altogether. And while Bracher is a member of the Greens, Dixon insists the pair started Meat Free Week of their own initiative and that the only other person who has input into their strategy is marketer (and meat eater) Peter Burr.

Dixon adds that their focus is as much on human health as it is about animals and the environment. Issues such as the links between red and processed meats and bowel cancer and the use of antibiotics in farming concern them. She argues Christensen is missing what Meat Free Week ''is all about''.

''We're talking to a younger generation that give a shit about the environment, that care about animal welfare,'' she says, adding that his stance is ''a bit stuck in the 1980s''.

For Christensen's part, he is unapologetically proceeding with his lunch plans, arguing Meat Free Week's focus on health is a ''smokescreen''.

RSVPs have been ''flooding in'' from both sides of the Parliament, although none yet from the Greens.

''They're quite welcome,'' he says, but cautions ''we're not serving tofu''.

With issues like missing planes and possible European war afoot, a free meat v meat-free debate may seem like a mere side dish. But, as the Parliament thunders on and on about the carbon tax, red tape and ministerial standards, a bit of variety in the diet now and then is a very welcome thing.

Judith Ireland is a Fairfax Media journalist.

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