"If you're not a liberal when you're 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 40, you have no brain.''
This silly and offensive adage, deployed to patronise the young, needs to be put to bed. Yet it lurks in the minds and actions of the powerful, and sneakily informs the public debate.
It is reflected in the rhetoric of politicians and their desperate pleas for the attention of ''working families''. So rarely is even a token gesture of political recognition extended to the young or single that we may as well not exist.
It seems increasingly that the political landscape in Australia is a battle of self-interest and greed. The cost of living has somehow become the single issue for federal government.
And the big picture is relegated to some distant rung way down the ladder. The Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson, speaking on Sky News's AM Agenda, wanted to list issues more pressing than same-sex marriage. ''Cost of living pressures, interest rates, and so on,'' were all he could muster.
Others tell us same-sex marriage is not a mainstream concern. But the evidence tells a different story. A Galaxy poll in October had support for gay marriage at 62 per cent. Among those under 34, support was 79 per cent.
So who are the people the government is frightened of? They are overwhelmingly old (46 per cent of over-50s did not want gays to marry), and frequently in marginal seats.
That's a stark figure, but the question we should be asking isn't ''Why?'' It's ''Who cares?'' Who cares if retirees, who are already married or divorced, don't like gay marriage? Who cares if pensioners are against a republic? It's not their future, and therefore it's not their place to decide.
That is not to say the elderly have no right to an opinion on gay marriage and to vote based on that opinion. But the weight and consideration given to that opinion should be less.
The failure of the two main parties to entice the young is evident on entry to any branch meeting across Australia. If branches are stacked by anyone, it is the elderly - who no doubt make important contributions, but who will not form the pool of talent necessary to make a mass political party supportable and electable.
Certainly, the archetypal student politician perseveres, hacking away as a staffer or in the back of some union office - but for other young people, with genuine dreams and ideas, there is only disillusionment.
What an improved country this would be if we formed policy with deference to the people who have something at stake. If we paid more heed to pensioners on the issue of welfare and hospitals. If we asked students for their input on education policy. If we listened to the young for guidance on big reforms.
But our political system allows for no such finesse. Rather, the most prescient opinions are always those emanating from marginal seats. It is an institutionalised travesty dictating that where you live will always matter much more than what you have at stake.
Interestingly, this does not apply to big-ticket economic reforms. Apparently when you decide to tax mining, it is the miners who are seated at the head of the negotiating table. When you implement a carbon price, the big polluters fly to Canberra for their concerns to be impressed upon ministerial ears. These policies, for some reason, do not require a consensus of public opinion. Why is 30 per cent support a good enough number to pursue a carbon tax, while 62 per cent is not enough to legislate for same-sex marriage?
Social policy seems to operate on a bizarre plane of logic where it needs almost unanimous agreement in order to move an inch. Politicians focus on the trajectory, telling us they expect change to come in the nebulous future, but we're ''not there yet''.
Well, young Australia is there on several important reforms. We've decided what we want our future to look like, and those opposed should quietly step out of the way.
Michael Koziol is studying media at the University of Sydney.