A significant feature of the organisation of public affairs in the 1990s in liberal welfare states has been a rebirth of contractualism. In Australia, the provision of social security and employment assistance to unemployed people has been characterised by an incremental shift away from entitlement as a right once certain preordained eligibility requirements are met. Instead, payments are becoming more dependent on compliance with individualised quasi-contractual agreements between the unemployed person and the relevant agency. Moves to create a competitive market in employment services also make it increasingly likely that this agency will not be a public body, but a private or non-governmental provider which itself operates in a contractual relationship with the state and in competition with other providers. The paper examines the nexus between the contracting-out of services for the unemployed and the quasi-contractual relationships being established with individual job seekers. It considers whether through this process we are seeing new relations of welfare developing which could be shifting Australian social security towards some different model. Supporters of the 'new contractualism' suggest that individual contract status could offer advantages compared to previous forms of paternalistic collectivism. The paper argues that job seekers are in a weak position to assert such status in the quasi-contractual employment assistance regime, and that there will be a need for greater attention to securing clients' rights if the positive aspects of case management and public/private complementarity are to be retained.