The proposed Resource Super Profit Tax may have strained the relationship between Labor and the resources sector, but mining companies may stand to benefit from the bandwidth delivered by the roll out of the government's National Broadband Network (NBN).
Wayne Gerard, owner and CEO of Queensland Resources Group, which provides technology and services to resources companies, says that the NBN can deliver enough bandwidth to facilitate remote mining operations and mining.
Gerard is using the resources of QRG to launch an online campaign, dubbed 'Our NBN', to promote awareness of the impact that the NBN will have on regional communities, including mining communities, and on industry in regional areas.
Currently, most mining companies have dedicated network infrastructure, either satellite or fixed line, Gerard said. However, "both those solutions are not scalable to support the level of whole of mine automated operations".
Remote operations may alleviate some of the difficulties mining companies face in sourcing skilled labour for sites. "Skilled labour is a significant challenge for all companies, particularly mining companies," Gerard said. "We've all seen in the press over the last month BHP Billiton's concerns about increasing cost of operations, and so BHP and Rio and Anglo have been investing quite heavily into trying to automate the mining process.
"In order to do that they essentially need to create what's called a remote operations centre — a ROC — and if you're going to have remote operation of mining equipment, then you need access to large amounts of bandwidth between the remote operations centre and the actual equipment doing the mining."
"There's lots and lots of technology on mining equipment that needs to be monitored remotely," Gerard said. "For example you send a command to a drilling platform then you need to monitor its direction of travel, its speed, its temperature, the geo-location…
"Really the mining industry is going to benefit a lot from having access to the bandwidth that the NBN will provide to enable automated remote operations."
The mining tax debate has distracted the resources industry "from identifying the opportunity that the NBN presents," Gerard said.
Gerard is critical of calls for cost benefit analysis of the NBN. It would be an "absolutely huge investment", he said, and "sometimes the government needs to take bold steps and instigate large scale investments that don't have an immediate return on investment and the NBN is clearly one of those."
In addition to the NBN's potential benefits for minesite operations, Gerard believes that it can help sustain mining communities. "Having the NBN in the regional towns that support the mining industry is a huge benefit for attracting skilled labour to live in those remote towns," he said.
"I think regardless of which party wins the next election the NBN is a critical infrastructure investment for all Australians and understanding it more fully and investigating more fully from the commercial benefit it will bring to regional Australia, to mining communities, to any industry, I think is something that really needs to be factored into Australia's development program over the next 25, 30 years."