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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (R) speaks alongside Labor leader Bill Shorten during their first televised debate in Sydney, Australia, May 13, 2016. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS

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By Jane Wardell

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Donald Trump cast his highly coiffed shadow over the Australian election on Friday when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rebuked his challenger for calling the U.S. Republican party's presumptive presidential nominee "barking mad".

Australian Opposition leader Bill Shorten called Trump's success in securing enough delegates to clinch the Republican party's presidential nomination the "ultimate victory of celebrity politics".

"I think Donald Trump's views are just barking mad on some issues," Shorten told Hot 100, a radio station in the tropical northern city of Darwin.

"Some people in America feel that politics doesn't speak to their lives and Trump is the ultimate protest vote," he said.

Shorten's centre-left Labor Party is gaining ground on Turnbull's conservative coalition government ahead of July 2 elections. His comments were quickly seized upon by Turnbull, who declared the U.S.-Australian relationship as being of "vital importance in every respect".

"You can imagine how Australians would feel if an American president were to describe one of our prime ministerial aspirants as barking mad," Turnbull said. "You can imagine the ill will and resentment that would create in Australia."

The United States is Australia's third-biggest trading partner in terms of two-way trade, behind China and Japan, but is easily its most important diplomatic and security ally.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama accused Trump of making cavalier comments for provocative effect.

Obama said at a Group of Seven summit in Japan that the billionaire real estate mogul and former reality TV star had "rattled" foreign leaders.

Trump responded by saying: "When you rattle someone, that's good. If they're rattled in a friendly way, that's a good thing ... not a bad thing."

Turnbull, whose Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, has called Trump's popularity "terrifying" and "kind of weird", hinted that his personal feelings might differ from his public statements.

"We all have private views about the merits of individual candidates," Turnbull told reporters. "I have no doubt that the American people will come to a wise and well thought-out decision when they vote later this year."

Shorten said his party would work with whoever wins the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

"America's a great friend of Australia and whoever they dish up, we'll work with," he said. "But wow."

(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Paul Tait)

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